Complacency an issue in recent 'Roos defeats
Kiwi confidence may be on the rise but Kangaroos skipper Cameron Smith hinted that complacency could be an issue for his side after their third-straight loss against their Trans-Tasman rivals.
New Zealand chalked up three wins in a row against Australia for the first time since 1953 in Sunday's 26-12 Anzac Test victory at Brisbane's Suncorp Stadium.
Prior to the Kiwis' current streak over the Kangaroos, which began in the opening game of the 2014 Four Nations, Australia dominated New Zealand over the course of eight-straight games with only two of those decided by eight points or less.
In the wake of Australia's 14-point loss, the first Test match between the sides since New Zealand's 22-18 triumph in last year's Four Nations final, Smith identified concerning similarities in the Kangaroos' recent defeats against the Kiwis.
"The last three games we've played against them – tonight, the Four Nations final and the game [in Brisbane] to start the Four Nations are almost identical – in all three matches we started quite well and were the first to get across the line in all the games," Smith said.
"Then for some reason we think that we've won the game after one try and they always seem to put a few points on us."
Australia crossed the line first courtesy of a Sam Thaiday try in the 13th minute and led 6-2 just shy of the quarter-hour mark before the Kiwis scored all four of their tries within a 20-minute period.
Led by Shaun Johnson (one try and five goals), Manu Vatuvei (two tries), Martin Taupau (129 metres) and Tohu Harris (101 metres and 32 tackles), the confident Kiwis led 26-6 at half-time and defended stoutly in the second half, failing to add further points to their tally.
Despite compounding their woes with 14 errors, with four of them on the fifth tackle, Australia had to deal with some determined Kiwi defence who repelled the Kangaroos on a number of occasions, especially during the second half.
"We had some opportunities early (in the game) as we did in the second half but we weren’t earning our points when we needed to," Smith added.
"A lot of times in the second half the last pass wasn’t sticking or we'd have a small fumble inside their 10 [metre line]."
Smith was quick to point out that New Zealand's defensive pressure did take its toll regardless of Australia's wastefulness with ball in hand.
"I thought the Kiwis' scramble defence was outstanding tonight. Every time we seemed to cross the line a black and white jersey turned up," he said.
"They denied us a couple of times in the corner, held [us] up, a knock-on over the line – it was just one of those nights where we had opportunities but just didn’t capitalise on them."
Although trailing by 20 points after conceding a try to Shaun Kenny-Dowall off a Greg Inglis mistake on the stroke of half-time, all was not lost heading into the second stanza according to Kangaroos coach Tim Sheens.
"The last try before half-time probably made it a bit tough for us mentally but we were positive in the sheds and came out and defended them to nil in the second half," Sheens said.
"They were just protecting their lead too I suppose, but taking nothing away from them we just didn’t play up to speed.
"Too many mistakes – some fundamental mistakes for an Australian side [and] we gifted them football and some discipline problems too in a couple of instances.
"We started well but didn’t execute it, didn’t finish it and defended poorly on our own line when we did give them the penalties."
Adding further salt to the Kangaroos' wounds was a knee injury to Dragons fullback and Test debutant Josh Dugan, who hyperextended his knee after an awkward collision with Kiwi forward Greg Eastwood 10 minutes from fulltime.
"He's got some damage – it'll take a scan to find out [the extent]," Sheens said.
"I don’t think it's season-ending or anything like that but he'll be uncomfortable for a while; I don’t think he'll play next week (against the Rabbitohs)."