Coach Stephen Kearney suggested New Zealand could enter a new period of dominance over Australia after their Four Nations final win in Wellington on Saturday.
The Kiwis ran out deserved winners over a fast-finishing Kangaroos, with Shaun Johnson starring in the 22-18 win before 25,183 fans at Westpac Stadium and Manu Vatuvei scoring two tries to become New Zealand’s all-time try-scoring record-holder.
The end-of-season triumph notched up back-to-back wins for the Kiwis over Australia for the first time since 1953 after their 30-12 defeat of the Kangaroos in Brisbane three weeks ago.
Kearney said the victory didn’t make up for their 34-2 thrashing by the Kangaroos in last year’s World Cup final, but gave them a new standard to live up to.
“A lot these guys were involved in the World Cup last year, so my joy is for them,” Kearney said.
“My joy is to see them archive something special and we have set ourselves a standard now, a standard in everything – they have to remind themselves now that this is the benchmark for them now.
“When guys come back into the group or when new guys come into the group they have to live up to these standards, that is how I see it.”
The tournament win is the Kiwis’ fourth in the last nine years – with their 2005 Tri Nations win, the 2008 World Cup win and the 2010 Four Nations win – and despite Australia’s emphatic victory in last year’s World Cup, New Zealand have genuine claims as the premier international team of international football.
Like the Suncorp Stadium win, this Kiwi victory was built on the back of forward dominance with Jesse Bromwich, Greg Eastwood and Martin Taupau ploughing through the Kangaroos ruck in the first half to help establish a 14-6 halftime lead.
Taupau was taken to hospital with a neck injury after a 45th minute tackle which appeared innocuous and Kearney revealed he had been discharged post-match. But his absence didn’t quell the Kiwis’ dominance or their ability to offload.
Michael Jennings opened the scoring for Australia in the 11th minute before a 23rd minute Jason Nightingale try and Vatuvei’s first in the 35th minute coupled with two Johnson conversions and a penalty goal put the Kiwis ahead at the break.
Sione Mata’utia scored his first Test try two minutes after halftime which was followed by a period of Australian dominance before Johnson sliced through the Kangaroos line in a brilliant individual try in the 58th minute to regain momentum for the hosts.
Vatuvei bulldozed over Mata’utia in the 63rd minute for his 20th Test try to surpass Nigel Vagana as Kiwis’ No.1 tryscorer and the game looked over.
But Ben Hunt crossed in the 76th minute to give the visitors some hope before an 80th minute Mata’utia four-pointer was called back by referee Phil Bentham for a forward pass.
As it was, Kangaroos coach Tim Sheens lauded a backs-to-the-wall effort from his side.
“We had a chance to win it at the end, but it wasn’t to be, they called it back but I’m not going to sit here and whinge about that,” Australian coach Tim Sheens said.
“That was a courageous effort. That score could have really blown out.
“We talked about showing resolve on our own line because that was something we didn’t do in the last game. We showed that tonight.”