St George Illawarra Dragons winger Brett Morris struck twice in the Australia Kangaroos 30-18 win over the New Zealand Kiwis at Allianz Stadium, Moore Park on Friday.
With five debutants in their team, the Kiwis, who also fielded both Dragons due Jason Nightingale and Gerard Beale, were expected to be an easy task for an Australian team hosting 14 players from their World Cup final-winning side of last year.
While Stephen Kearney had been questioned throughout the week about his selection motives, with several players yet to play international football and others from the NSW Cup – the Kiwis did their country no shame in an admirable effort.
With the likes of Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, Ben Matulino and Alex Glenn being dropped from the side and others, like Issac Luke and Thomas Leuluai, missing the game through injury, the Kiwis did extremely well to go down by two tries, having held a shock 18-12 half-time lead.
While there were questions raised over the form of Cooper Cronk leading into the game, the Melbourne halfback proved the doubters wrong and highlighted he was the man for the job – punctuated by his understudy Daly Cherry-Evans warming the bench for the first 71 minutes.
With the majority of rugby league fans expecting a blow-out and most bookmakers posting the Kiwis chances of winning at double figures, the men from across the ditch left many speechless after scoring the first try of the evening in the sixth minute.
Off the back of a Shaun Johnson in-goal kick that caused a drop-out and another repeat set in the process of play, Storm front-rower Jesse Bromwich fell over the line from dummy-half to secure an early 6-0 lead.
Australian five-eighth Johnathan Thurston wouldn't have it though and six minutes later he sublimely handed it off to fearless back-rower Greg Bird to level the scores.
Kiwi prop Sam Moa was down hurt in the process of the try playing out, with the Kiwis left to defend with 12 men.
An indifferent bounce from a Cameron Smith kick left debutant Kiwi fullback Peta Hiku spilling the pill 15 metres out from his own line just past the quarter-hour mark.
Aussie winger Brett Morris scored his 22nd try for the Kangaroos off the proceeding scrum play thanks again to Thurston, handing Australia a 12-6 lead after 18 minutes.
Though the brilliance of the Australian No. 6 would not overawe the Kiwis, as Thurston's unlikely opposite five-eighth Tohu Harris levelled up the scores in the 23rd minute in a highly scrutinised video referee decision – the big Melbourne behemoth managing to place the ball down practically over his head.
Four minutes later New Zealand's other prop Sam Moa barged his way over for his first ever international try, the Kiwis hitting the lead for the second time of the evening for what would end up being an 18-12 half-time scoreline.
After an error-riddled first 10 minutes from both sides to kick-off the second half, the Kangaroos drew first blood in the 52nd minute through the hands of Brett Morris for his second try of the evening – Thurston again levelling the scores with his conversion.
After a brilliant defensive set where the Kiwis were unlucky not to escape the in-goal, the Kangaroos, off the back of a brilliant side-to-side movement, would score their fourth try of the evening through the hands of Greg Inglis in the 61st minute – the lead changing hands for the third time of the evening, with Australia holding a 24-18 advantage.
After several entertaining sets from New Zealand, the Australians would come out with their heads held high – not only preventing the Kiwis levelling the score but scoring a long range try through halfback Cronk to take the score to 30-18, putting the game out of reach for their brave opponents.
Australia 30. Tries: B Morris (2), Bird, Cronk, Inglis. Goals: Thurston (5/5).
New Zealand 18. Tries: Bromwich, Harris, Moa. Goals: Johnson (3/3).