Kangaroos v Kiwis: Five key points
The Kiwis wait to take the crown, Manu Vatuvei writes another page of history, senior Kangaroos face uncertain futures and Shaun Johnson delivers style and substance.
Kiwis are not officially No.1... yet
With the Rugby League International Federation world rankings not due to be updated until the first of next month, New Zealand won’t be officially recognised as the world's best team for close to four weeks, and perhaps not even that early. Despite adding the Anzac Test to their Four Nations triumph of last year, the Kiwis needed a sizeable win over the Kangaroos in order to take the game’s No.1 mantle; whether 14 points is sufficient is unclear for the time being. If not, they will have to wait until later this year and record a Test series win over England in England to take the crown but according to Kangaroos captain Cameron Smith, they are currently the dominant nation in rugby league.
"We haven't beaten them the last three times we've played them so I guess they are," was Smith's frank assessment.
Smith's counterpart, Kiwis captain Simon Mannering, was less committal on whether his side deserved to be ranked as the best in the world.
"As a group we still very much see Australia as the benchmark team," Mannering said. "They've been consistent for a very long period of time and we feel as a group we've got a long way to go."
Manu is a modern marvel
'Vintage Manu' can have many different connotations but in delivering a performance worthy of the Charles Savory Medal as man of the match on Sunday afternoon, the good Manu Vatuvei far outweighed any nervous moments that bad Manu can sometimes conjure.
For a winger of Vatuvei's stature and standing the two tries that he scored are unlikely to feature in a top 10 list from his record 22 Test tries for New Zealand to date but making things look easy hasn't always been so easy for Vatuvei.
His handling can sometimes resemble a seal trying to juggle a cake of soap but his charges from deep within his own half not only inspire his forwards to do the same but gave them the platform from which to work from.
He is setting try-scoring records at club and international level that may never be matched and his Warriors and Kiwis captain Simon Mannering says that he wouldn't swap him for any other player.
"He's massive for any team he plays in. I know playing alongside him at the Warriors for a number of years and with the Kiwis for a number of years that he's such a damaging player at both ends of the field," Mannering said.
"Getting us out of trouble and also his try-scoring ability, he more than deserved to be man of the match tonight.
"Real special player, real special team man, a guy you want in camp every chance you get to have him in there."
More to Shaun Johnson than silky skills and golden slippers
He is yet to officially receive the award but ever since Shaun Johnson was awarded the 2014 Golden Boot as the best player in the game, the mantle has been one critics have been seemingly eager to strip from him. Outstanding for the Kiwis in their Four Nations victory last year, Johnson has once again struggled to replicate that form on a weekly basis at the Warriors in 2015 who have started their campaign with three wins from eight games.
But he was back to his brilliant best on Sunday, not only delivering electrifying moments in attack but coming up with key defensive plays and making good last-tackle options as the second half moved towards its conclusion, including a banana-kick in the dying stages that almost led to a try for Shaun Kenny-Dowall.
"It turns around quick doesn't it?" coach Stephen Kearney shot back when Johnson's club form was questioned. "He's part of a group and he understands that the guys that are in front of him, his forward pack, and the guys around him, if they are getting their jobs done it gives Shaun an opportunity to do what we saw tonight, what he's capable of.
"I thought Shaun did that. When the opportunity presented itself to him he was there to skin it and that's all we've asked of him all week. He got his job done tonight and I was really pleased for him."
Kangaroos may never be the same
Neither coach Tim Sheens nor captain Cameron Smith wanted to consider that the defeat by the Kangaroos represented the end of an era but with a 12-month wait until their next assignment there can be no guarantees of anyone's position in the team. Sheens's contract expires at the end of this season while the likes of Corey Parker, Greg Bird, Nate Myles and Luke Lewis will all be just that bit longer in the tooth. With four debutants on Sunday you could argue that the change has already begun and Bird himself knows that it could be a very different looking team when the Kangaroos next play.
"That's one of the hardest things about the loss, the fact that there might be some guys here that won't be in the team next year," Bird said, adding that he believed there remained plenty of football left in the 17 who took the field on Sunday.
"It is an aging squad but [the next Test] is 12 months away. You have a bad game at club level and you wait until next week and do it all again. That's our only international game for the year so it's going to be a tough wait but fingers crossed we get another opportunity to make amends."
New Zealand's mid-year jinx is over
New Zealand had not beaten Australia in any month other than October or November stretching all the way back to April 1998, a Test that happened to be the first of what would be a decorated 59-Test career for Kangaroos legend Darren Lockyer.
Not since the glory days of New Zealand Rugby League when they won seven out of 10 Tests against Australia between 1937 and 1953 had the Kiwis won three games in succession against the Kangaroos and no member of the current team had known what it felt like to get their hands on the Anzac Trophy.
It was an achievement captain Simon Mannering put down to the success of last year's Four Nations tournament.
"Every time we've played this Test we've always put a lot of effort in but we've never come away with the result so very satisfying for the players and the staff," he said after his 41st Test for the Kiwis. "It's been 17 years since it's happened so we'll enjoy this victory tonight because it's been a very long time coming.
"I don't know if it's a mental block. The only thing I can really pick out different for this year was that we had pretty much the same group as last time we were together. Any time you can get consistency in your selection training runs so much smoother when you know how guys inside and outside you play."