On Saturday night the Kangaroos – Australia’s national rugby league team – went down in a shock two point loss to New Zealand in Auckland. The Australian team struggled to find fluency with the loss of their World Cup winning spine (Cameron Smith, Cooper Cronk, Johnathan Thurston and Billy Slater have all retired from representative football) but their highly rated forward pack also lacked penetration.
Despite losing the mainstays of the team the Australian backline was loaded with talent, with Luke Keary the only player who didn’t star in Origin this year – and he was the best on ground in the grand final. However, New Zealand’s forward pack showed up their counterparts, who seemed to be a bit flat. With the Kiwi pack dominant it was very tricky for the Kangaroo’s playmakers to unleash the attacking potential outside them – although whenever they did it led to spectacular results.
Australia opened the scoring with a try to Valentine Holmes, however shortly afterwards Keary left the field with concussion (replaced by Ben Hunt) and the Australian attack started losing its fluency. New Zealand got on top in the forwards battle, but Australia defended ferociously for over 15 minutes until New Zealand finally got over the line. Just before half time Australia regained the lead after Tom Trbojevic – in the unfamiliar position of right centre – sparked a try to Dane Gagai against the run of play.
In the second half the Kiwi offensive pressure took a toll on the Australians, with the home side racing to a 26 – 12 lead by the 67th minute. Latrell Mitchell sparked the Australian attack late in the game, with two late tries giving the crowd a grandstand finish with the Kangaroos hot on the attack, but it came to nothing as Mitchell fumbled a pass on the vital play.
The Kangaroos play Tonga at the same venue next week, and their forward pack will need to step up to handle some of the monsters in red jerseys that will be coming at them. Last weekend David Klemmer was the only Australian forward to carry the ball for more than 100m, compared to five from the Kiwis. Without the forwards doing their part the superstar Aussie backline will again struggle to score.