NZ beats Australia 22-18 to win 4 Nations Champs
WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — Winger Manu Vatuvei scored two tries as New Zealand held on to beat defending champion Australia 22-18 on Saturday in the final of rugby league’s Four Nations Championship.
The Kiwis ended the tournament unbeaten after defeating Australia, England and Samoa in round-robin play to claim their first Four Nations title since 2010.
Their victory on Saturday, after their 30-12 win over the Kangaroos in the opening match of the tournament, gave them consecutive test victories over Australia for the first time since 1953.
Vatuvei scored a try in each half to become New Zealand’s leading tryscorer in tests with 20. Jason Nightingale opened the Kiwis’ scoring with his fifth try of the tournament and five eighths Shaun Johnson scored a try and kicked three goals.
Australia opened the scoring with a try to winger Michael Jennings which capped a dominant first 10 minutes. But New Zealand then took charge and outplayed the world champions, scoring tries through wingers Nightingale and Vatuvei and adding a penalty to Johnson to take a 14-6 lead to halftime.
Nightingale finished in the right corner after a long break by Shaun Kenny-Dowall and Vatuvei scored in the left, grazing the corner flag, from a long pass by Johnson who converted both tries.
Australia missed 19 tackles in the first spell and wasn’t able to match New Zealand’s 88 percent completion rate.
But the Kangaroos came out strongly in the second half and scored after only two minutes through Sione Mata’utia, who became Australia’s youngest test player at 18 when he debuted earlier in the tournament.
That cut the lead to 14-12 but New Zealand responded with tries to Johnson and Vatuvei in the 58th and 62nd minutes to open a decisive 10-point lead. Johnson made an outstanding solo break for a try which clinched the man of the match award and Vatuvei scored his record-breaking 20th test try off a Johnson pass.
Australia still wasn’t finished and scored in the 76th through Ben Hunt to cut the lead to four points, giving themselves a faint chance of vicotry. They attacked through the final minutes of the match but a forward pass with seconds remaining allowed the Kiwis to hold on.
“Our boys put everything they could into this tournament and it paid dividends tonight,” New Zealand captain Simon Mannering said. “The Aussies had a great tournament, showed their real still steel after a tough first game and showed what a quality team they are tonight.”
New Zealand 22 (Manu Vatuvei 2, Jason Nightingale, Shaun Johnson tries; Shaun Johnson 3 goals), Australia 18 (Michael Jennings, Sione Mata’utia, Ben Hunt tries; Cameron Smith 3 goals). HT: 14-6.