• Australia 34-8 New Zealand
• Jonathan Thurston scored three conversions and two penalties
Defining sporting brilliance is often a complicated task, but in rugby league at least you generally cannot go far wrong by sitting back and marvelling at Australia. Where this particular crop of Kangaroos sit among the game’s all-time greats is a whole other debate, but Mal Meninga’s side have swept aside all before them this autumn in some style.
Australia have rarely looked troubled in this year’s Four Nations and one of the more one-sided finals was a microcosm of their tournament. It was difficult to pinpoint the moment the game was over as a contest but by the end of the opening quarter, when Australia led 18-0 with Blake Ferguson, Josh Dugan and Trent Merrin running in tries, New Zealand’s race felt run.
After that, there were three further tries for the winners as the 40,042 fans who had mostly pre-bought tickets in the hope that England would be in the final under Wayne Bennett were treated to an Australian masterclass in Liverpool. Johnathan Thurston, Cameron Smith and Cooper Cronk were all exceptional, and if this was their last game in England they went out in some style.
“I haven’t seen too many better spines in the history of our game,” Meninga said of this trio. “This is a great era for us with these great players, and with being number one in the world again now, we’re in decent shape heading into the World Cup [in 2017]. The pressure is on us now, but I’m confident we can handle it.”
If England fans were watching with a sense of frustration over the failure to make it to Anfield, the Kiwis’ performance will have prompted further questions as to how Bennett’s side lost against them on the opening weekend in Huddersfield – a result which proved fatal. As easy as it was to admire the brilliance of Australia, the New Zealanders were dreadful; the Kangaroos certainly took advantage.
Ferguson’s try after two minutes was an ominous warning of what was to follow. The Kiwis almost levelled in a rare moment of dominance but no sooner had Shaun Johnson’s decisive pass gone to ground, than Australia had raced upfield and moved 10-0 ahead through Josh Dugan.
Thurston’s penalty goals either side of Merrin’s try put the result beyond doubt; with further tries for Dugan and the outstanding Darius Boyd either side of half-time. To their credit, New Zealand entertained late on, gaining a reward with two tries for Jordan Kahu, but the final word went to Australia when Boyd Cordner crashed over.
Meninga and his senior players were intent pre-tournament on showing the Australian public that international rugby league is the pinnacle. In this year of shocks, one thing seems destined never to change: Australia’s dominance of international rugby league.
Australia D Boyd; Ferguson, Dugan, Inglis, Holmes; Thurston, Cronk; Scott, Smith, Woods, Cordner, Gillett, Merrin. Interchange Morgan, Klemmer, Frizell, S Boyd.
Tries Ferguson, Dugan 2, Merrin, Boyd, Cordner. Goals Thurston 5.
New Zealand Kahu; Fusitu’a, Kata, Kenny-Dowall, Rapana; Harris, Johnson; Bromwich, Luke, Blair, Proctor, Ma’u, Taumalolo. Interchange Brown, Taupau, Eastwood, Tapine.
Tries Kahu 2.
Referee B Cummins (Aus). Attendance 40,042.