Last Time Played: Australia v New Zealand
Australia defeated New Zealand 20-12 at Eden Park on April 20 in a gritty contest played during the NRL’s inaugural Representative Round.
In one of the closest battles between the nations in recent years the Kiwis drew first blood when hooker Issac Luke burrowed over from dummy-half in the 12th minute, with skipper Benji Marshall converting for a 6-nil lead.
The home fans’ joy was short-lived however, with back-to-back four-pointers to new Kangaroos five-eighth Johnathan Thurston (21st minute, jinking over from first receiver) and centre Greg Inglis (26th minute, off a Billy Slater try assist) placing Australia in the box seat in the 10 minutes leading up to halftime.
However, the green and gold had their backs to the wall soon after when star fullback Slater was sin-binned for a professional foul on Kiwi interchange Alex Glenn.
New Zealand mounted wave after wave of attack but were unable to capitalise on their numbers advantage and when a Thurston penalty goal on the stroke of halftime edged Australia to an eight-point buffer, fans got the sense the Kiwis may have blown a huge chance to get back into the match.
But Kiwi No.7 Shaun Johnson had other ideas. In the 46th minute the explosive halfback intercepted a Cooper Cronk pass and raced 85 metres to score, with Marshall adding the extras for a 14-12 scoreline that brought the crowd to life.
The game hung in the balance before Kangaroos skipper Cameron Smith forced his way over from close range, wrestling free of the attention of three Kiwis defenders to score the match-winning try in the 69th minute.
There was barely a split match between the sides on the stats sheet: New Zealand edged their arch rivals for territory (1353 metres to 1325 metres) and both sides completed 28 sets with the ball.
However, Australia managed to do more with the ball in hand, making five line-breaks to New Zealand’s two.
Australia were best served by prop Paul Gallen, who made 18 hit-ups, seven tackle-breaks and three offloads, and captain Smith who scored a try, registered a whopping 118 receives and added a game-high 51 tackles.