The Kangaroos snapped a three-game, two-year losing run against their Trans-Tasman foes with a rugged and at times dour 16-0 win in the Downer Test at Hunter Stadium on Friday night.
Greg Inglis. So "out of form".
Suggest that Rabbitohs skipper Greg Inglis shouldn't have been picked in this Kangaroos side based on form to either Kangaroos coach Mal Meninga or captain Cameron Smith and expect a withering look. On Friday night, Inglis showed why he's always a must-pick in rep teams.
Playing in what is now his less-accustomed position of left centre, Inglis was arguably the best player in either team's back five (along with Darius Boyd) and close to best on ground.
Inglis busted a match-high seven tackles, his 184 metres was the best of any back and second overall only to man-of-the-match Paul Gallen, plus he scored one try and had another disallowed. It's fair to say 'GI' didn't look particularly out of form.
His coach was certainly of that view and suggested Inglis may take that confidence back to the Rabbitohs with him.
"It was fantastic to see him back to his best. Sometimes games like this rebuild their confidence," Meninga said.
"We're expecting Greg to go back to his club and do similar things."
Issac's absence not to blame
Kiwi coach Steve Kearney refused to blame the absences of any of the players unavailable or not selected but did confirm out-of-form Warriors hooker Issac Luke's non-selection was purely a selection decision and hoped the fierce rake would push his way back into the team by the end-of-year Four Nations tournament.
"The two lads we had in at dummy half, I didn't think they let us down at any stage there," Kearney said.
"There was maybe one pass that went to ground but I thought the rest of the time they were fantastic. For me, it wasn't an issue."
Semi brushes off early binning
As if all eyes weren’t already on him, Parramatta cult hero Semi Radradra had to go and get himself sent to the sin bin on what was almost his first involvement in his debut Test for Australia.
Having taken one solid hit-up early, Radradra's second involvement was jostling with Kiwis back-rower Kevin Proctor as the Storm forward chased through a kick in the hopes of scoring a try. The bunker deemed Radradra's push constituted a professional foul and the 23-year-old was sent to cool his heels for 10 minutes.
There were silver linings to those clouds for the Aussies though, with the Kangaroos rallying to outscore their opponents 6-0 while Radradra was off the field, and the man himself returning like nothing had happened to launch a series of the cannonball-like hit-ups for which he is known.
His first carry upon returning was quality and so were the majority after that. He finished with 144 metres from 16 runs and his three offloads could easily have been six if half hadn't been called back for being simultaneous with a 'held' call.
The winger's positive response to his surprise binning pleased Kangaroos coach Mal Meninga.
"Semi's come back on and it didn't even affect him, did it?" Meninga asked rhetorically at his post- match press conference.
"His first effort was fantastic and he was throwing the ball around and his ability in the air was great and his defence was good. As it was the other three debutants. I couldn't fault anyone in that performance tonight."
Test matches can be dour sometimes
The immediate response on social media to Australia's grinding 16-0 win was that this probably won't be spoken about as one of the matches of the year but Meninga reminded critics that Tests can often be defence-minded safety-first affairs rather than mile-a-minute exhibition games and he said his charges should be praised for their professionalism and dedication in getting the job done.
"That was a real Test match. That's what Test match footy is and people who haven't played Test match footy don't quite understand that. It's rugged, it's physical, sometimes it's a dour event," Meninga said.
"It's a different game, one referee, teams are closer together, there's no doubt about that, the ruck a bit slower as well but a lot of physicality out there and that's a different game."
Kangaroos skipper Cameron Smith concurred.
"I thought we were very composed with the way we played, we didn't try anything overly special, we just tried to play quite simple football which is what is needed at this level and the fans and commentators expect a big scoreline when you come to rep football but as Mal said that's not what Test match footy is about," Smith said.
"It's about a tough physical game and we definitely got that tonight so I was really pleased with the way we approached the game and the way we handled the entire 80 minutes."
And let's give credit where it is due – to New Zealand's defence
Both Meninga and Kiwis coach Steve Kearney were quick to point out New Zealand had to soak up a mountain of pressure on their line and to keep the Aussies to three tries (the last of those in the final minute) was a fair effort.
Australia had any number of attacking opportunities and most days you'd expect a side boasting Thurston, Cronk, Smith, Inglis and co. camped at an opponents' line to find points sooner rather than later so it's a huge credit to Kearney and his men that even with a team missing any number of stars they were able to keep their line mostly intact.
"I think a lot of people don't give New Zealand enough credit for how good a football side they are," Smith said.
"They are short of a couple of experienced guys and some guys that are very good in attack but they're a good football side, let's not forget about that. There's always expectation of Australia to go out and beat whoever they play but it's not the old days, they're gone. The Kiwis are just as good as the Kangaroos. I was just really proud of the way we approached tonight."
Meninga said the Kiwis scrambled well. "You can tell they want to play in that black and white jersey. They denied us with some really good decisions defensively," he said.
"If we were down on troops and we put that similar effort in I'd be very proud of the guys and we reciprocate that. I said that to Steve after the game, it was a fantastic effort by them to do what they did considering the week they've had."