Shaun Johnson masterminded an outstanding win for the Kiwis as they downed Australia 22-18 in the Four Nations rugby league final in Wellington on Saturday.
In front of a vocal 25,183 crowd, Johnson steered a slick Kiwis backline to victory, their second in three weeks over the Kangaroos after their first-up 30-12 win in Brisbane.
It’s the first time in more than 60 years that New Zealand has recorded back-to-back wins against Australia.
Australian coach Tim Sheens said Johnson’s performance was key to the Kiwis win.
“Their second phase, and Johnson’s running on the last and skipping across field, when he gets that sort of ball … He had spiders on him tonight, the boy, and he played really well.”
Kiwis coach Stephen Kearney said Johnson’s match-winning effort was set up by some outstanding work from the forwards.
“Shaun, off the back of some great work by the forwards, got some opportunities to pull them open a bit,” he said.
A low-key Johnson also paid tribute to the hard yards done by the big-hitters.
“The forwards did a really good job laying the platform … the quick ruck, what they’ve been doing all tournament, and I was just able to get through there and reward them for the work they’d done,” he said.
A fast and furious finish set up the victory for New Zealand, after the Australians hit the front early when Michael Jennings grounded a Cooper Cronk chip ahead after 11 minutes.
Skipper Cameron Smith slotted the easy conversion, and the Australians led for the first and only time in the match.
First half tries to Jason Nightingale and Manu Vatuvei, and Johnson’s accurate boot gave New Zealand a 14-6 lead at the break, but the Kangaroos bounced back early in the second spell.
It took barely three minutes after the restart before quick hands from Daly Cherry-Evans slipped the ball wide for Sione Mata’utia to score in the corner.
But Johnson wrested the momentum back with a superb solo try as the hour mark neared, swerving and dummying his way to the line to open up an 18-14 lead.
Vatuvei extended the lead five minutes later, finishing off a sweeping move down the left which also featured impressive pace and handling from Foran and fullback Peter Hiku.
The try was Vatuvei’s 20th in the black jersey, and put him at the top of the Kiwis’ all-time try-scoring list ahead of Nigel Vagana.
Ben Hunt’s 77th minute try gave the Kangaroos a sniff of hope, and the Kiwis had to withstand some intense late pressure to wrap up the win.