Thank you for joining me tonight for a reminder of why we need more top-level international rugby league. Congratulations Australia, commiserations New Zealand. England or Samoa await the Kangaroos at Old Trafford next weekend.
Hot off the press, here’s Aaron Bower’s take from Elland Road. Stay tuned for more reaction during the week, as well as the countdown to the decider.
I’ll catch you all again soon.
England and Samoa now know what’s ahead of them if they come through their assignment at Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium tomorrow.
Despite the superb tries and New Zealand’s dynamic forward play in the first half, the result hinged on one moment midway through the second when Cameron Murray took advantage of a brief lapse in concentration. An exhausted Brandon Smith was the culprit, conceding a penalty for finding himself on the wrong side of the ruck, then failing to adapt to the danger of Murray steaming into the line from the quick play. Nelson Asofa-Solomona should have done better in contact as well, and it’s those fine margins that determine world cup campaigns.
“I certainly know we can play better,” adds Meninga, “but New Zealand didn’t let us.”
The Australian coach is confident he will have a fully fit squad to select from for next weekend’s final against England or Samoa.
“Fantastic. That was Test match rugby. New Zealand threw everything but the kitchen sink at us,” says Mal Meninga. “I’m just glad we’re on the winning side.
“It’s right up there. It was a great challenge for both sides and it was a great advertisement for the game.”
Liam Martin player of the match
Australian enforcer Liam Martin is named player of the match for his massive hits and hard running. “Absolutely buggered,” he grins between pants as he accepts his award.
That was a superb demonstration of international rugby league. A ding-dong first-half full of breathtaking tries gave way to an exhausting second period decided by a solitary score the result of fatigue and errors.
Full-time: Australia 16-14 New Zealand
The Kangaroos survive a tough test to make it through to the rugby league world cup final.
79 mins: The drive takes New Zealand to 40m out on tackle three. Hughes and Brown try to unpick the lock on tackle four but the defence is too good. It’s all about the kick on the last, by Hughes, from left to right corner… and Mitchell leaps with timing to defuse the bomb and secure a place in the world cup final.
78 mins: New Zealand make little ground before Hughes is forced to kick. Australia take no risks with runners from dummy-half or first receiver until the last. But then everything goes wrong with Cleary’s kick off cue then Holmes’ second effort belted way beyond the in-goal. Can the Kiwis score from 80m out?
77 mins: Australia make good ground on the set. Mitchell is busy, Crichton industrious, and Cleary accepts some punishment with a dive towards the line on the last tackle. Smart rugby league from the Kangaroos. The Kiwis only have a couple of sets remaining to force a late upset and they begin 100m away from glory.
76 mins: The Kangaroos defend well early in the set, slowing down the ruck and sucking out any momentum. Brown tries to spark some life back into the drive but he is crunched heading to the gainline. By the time Hughes kicks, Addo-Carr can accept possession unopposed. Time running out for the Kiwis.
75 mins: The Kiwis have the bit between their teeth and smash into their next defensive set, restricting Australia to a Cleary kick 35m from his own line.
73 mins: What a passage of play! Cleary kicks long but Nicoll-Klokstad returns with interest, busting through tackles and almost running over the top of Tedesco. The ruck is speedy and Hughes senses the opportunity, trying to exploit the space behind Addo-Carr on the right wing. He dabs the ball onto his boot, the Fox covers but Hiku leaps over the top to touch down in the corner! Ashley Klein isn’t convinced it’s a try, and the TMO agrees, Hiku’s foot was out of touch before his Superman leap. Daring and brave from New Zealand but Australia survive.
72 mins: Finally a New Zealand attack! A set restart on halfway is the impetus, prompting more of the offloading we saw to good effect in the first half. Australia are solid in defence though with Mitchell first hammering a momentum-changing tackle then leaping to claim the testing high crossfield kick. The Kangaroos only make 25m in response, can the Kiwis capitalise?
71 mins: Australia build through the middle with Cleary and Trbojevic both running to the line with purpose. New Zealand are increasingly ragged in defence but benefit from a Tedesco slip just as the door was being prised open.
69 mins: After a long Hughes kick Tedesco has space to return to his side’s 40m line and set up another Australian incursion. The Kangaroos are very smartly turning the screw now. Cleary again goes to the skies on the last and despite Hiku doing superbly with the contested mark it leaves 100m to travel for the sixth or seventh set in a row.
67 mins: Another New Zealand error – this time off Hughes’s boot – and Addo-Carr almost dashes down the left wing on the counterattack until he’s ankle tapped 20m out. The Kangaroos hold the ball in for a set and are happy for a kick chase on the last tackle to force Rapana to dash fractionally beyond his in-goal. The Kiwis are on the ropes.
There have been a few dubious tackles tonight, Tino’s the latest.
65 mins: Hmmm, are the Kiwis running out of steam? Another handling error, this time from Rapana, turns the ball over just 30m from his own line. Australia go through hands to the right but Munster is wrapped up before he can find Wighton outside. Crichton is the unlikely kicker in the set but he dribbles a neat grubber that Mulitalo takes a few blades of grass in front of the line.
64 mins: New Zealand clear their lines and settle after a spell of pressure, but not without Fisher-Harris taking a massive hit from Martin, who is playing like a guided missile this half.
62 mins: Australia are in prime field position and the Kangaroos look set to turn the screw. Grant almost shimmys through from dummy-half before Cleary’s high ball is recycled Australia’s way. Munster instigates a raid from broken play and the ground opens up for the green jerseys… but there’s a whistle. With a try at their mercy the Kangaroos concede a penalty courtesy of a needless shove from Mitchell off the ball.
60 mins: It’s loose carry o’clock! After Manu comes Wighton and now Asofa-Solomona. It’s no surprise considering the intensity of the contest, and the latter could perhaps have been overturned by the referee with Martin executing the hit with minimal use of the arms.
58 mins: Asofa-Solomona and Smith were both at fault for that try and the latter looks either injured or exhausted as the Kiwis try to regroup. Maguire needs to use his bench smartly. The urgency grows when Manu is drilled by Australian substitute Fa’asuamaleaui and loses possession.
TRY! Australia 16-14 New Zealand (Murray, 54)
A ruck penalty to the Kangaroos deep in defence could be that spark. A long clearing kick sets up perfect field position, augmented by a set restart. Grant and Munster combine to free Tedesco, then Cleary almost shepherds Yeo under the posts. New Zealand hold on – but illegally so with Smith lying on the wrong side of the ruck – and Australia have a penalty under the posts.
AND THEY SCORE PRACTICALLY UNOPPOSED! Murray gathers the tap pass then barrels straight at the Kiwi line, the tackles are limp and he pounds over like a competitive father in a lads v dads knockabout. Awful defence from New Zealand and Murray takes full advantage.
Cleary cannot miss from under the bar and out of nowhere Australia are ahead.
51 mins: Another brilliant Brown bomb invites Addo-Carr to mark and accept a mighty hit from Hiku. Excellent rugby league from all three involved.
Australia have no go-forward and barely reach halfway before a simple kick reception for Nicoll-Klokstad. The Kangaroos need a spark from somewhere and they have only half an hour to find it.
49 mins: New Zealand reach 20m at a cruise and then keep the ball alive like Fiji Sevens stars on the left, forcing Australia to scramble defence at pace. Hughes then almost breaks the line through the middle, and on the last nearly feeds his outside runners through on the right. The Kiwis are not overawed by the occasion and their halves have performed superbly with ball in hand.
47 mins: And now some biff! Australia go down the other end, Cleary makes a dart but he’s tackled superbly by Papali’i – who earns the loose carry in the process. The big Kiwi stands over the prone halfback to confirm his dominance, so Murray steams in and shoves him out of the way, sparking an all-in with handbags flying. It proves to be more posturing than pugilistic but New Zealand are awarded a clearing penalty.
45 mins: The Kiwis grind to halfway with little penetration but Brown’s kicking has been so dangerous all night they remain a threat. Another boot from the five-eighth causes panic in the Australian defence after Addo-Carr lets the ball bounce. New Zealand capitalise on broken play, Leota does superbly, and Hiku scores a stunning try against the run of play! Hang on… the TMO has ruled Hiku was fractionally offside when Brown kicked and the try will not stand. Ooof, that was tough.
44 mins: Australia get lucky when Brown hammers Murray and dislodges the ball, but isn’t rewarded by the referee. The Kangaroos profit further with a set restart as the drive reaches the 20m line. Something is brewing – until Murray again loses the ball and this time he is penalised! Huge let-off for New Zealand in the shadow of their posts.
42 mins: Nothing flash from the Kangaroos on their opening set with the Kiwi defence again hitting hard and getting bodies over the ball to slow the ruck down. New Zealand make little ground in reply.
The teams are back out for the second half. Can the Kiwis finish the job?
Analysis on Australian TV from Cooper Cronk and Bryan Fletcher is pretty straightforward: New Zealand are getting quick ruck ball, Australia aren’t. For the Kiwis it’s all about their ability to offload to keep play moving, while the Kangaroos are unable to clear out the second and third tacklers slowing the play down. Fletcher suggests the referee could do more to keep the game ticking over, in scenes reminiscent of NSW criticisms of Klein during the Origin series.
If you haven’t seen it yet, enjoy Josh Addo-Carr’s outrageous try.
Half-time: Australia 10-14 New Zealand
Superb half of international rugby league and it ends with New Zealand taking a deserved lead. The Kiwis have earned the right to play with a strong showing from their pack. The halfback pairing of Hughes and Brown have been outstanding. What can the Kangaroos bring after the break?
TRY! Australia 10-14 New Zealand (Brown, 37)
Dylan Brown accepts the four points but New Zealand’s try out of nowhere is all Ronaldo Mulitalo. The Kiwis do the hard yards through the middle with Asofa-Solomona to the fore. Then, when they go through hands to the left, Mulitalo has a couple of yards to run into and he uses them to step outside his direct opponent and accelerate down the touchline. He needs a support runner on his inside – and he finds Brown with an excellent pass under pressure. Brown adds to his impressive night with the simple finish.
Rapana makes it three from three with his boot.
36 mins: A long passage of workmanlike rugby league between the two 20m lines with fatigue starting to show at the end of a pulsating half. Manu does brilliantly at fullback to pouch Cleary’s enormous spiralling long-range bomb.
34 mins: Back to the midfield arm-wrestle, a duel notable for New Zealand’s offloading. The Kiwis are doing well keeping the ball alive after contact, even when the likes of Wighton nail some bone-crunching hits. Valentine Holmes is again vital in defence under Brown’s kick.
TRY! Australia 10-8 New Zealand (Holmes, 29)
Australia need a burst to get out of trouble and they find it when Wighton and Martin combine on the right to create space on halfway. The Kangaroos smell blood and the pace of the drive goes up a number of gears. Cleary and Tedesco both fancy their luck infield, Munster almost wriggles through a gap, then with New Zealand unsettled the ball goes through hands to the right where Wighton times his side-step to perfection to wrong-foot the oncoming tackler and skip towards the line. He’s brought down within inches by Manu, but the Kiwi falls off, allowing Wighton to offload brilliantly on the ground to Holmes to dab the ball down in the right corner. Decisive from Australia, excellent improvisation from Wighton.
Cleary drags his touchline conversion across the face of the posts.
27 mins: Solid restart set from the Kiwis and another testing kick from Brown asks questions of Holmes. The Australian winger is up to the task but he has to accept a massive hit from Papali’i for his troubles. The Kangaroos make little use of the ball as New Zealand re-establish their control in midfield. This has been nip-and-tuck all night so far with subtle shifts in ascendancy among the forwards determining field position.
PENALTY! Australia 6-8 New Zealand (Rapana, 25)
Rapana is not a regular goalkicker at club level and his technique does not look the most secure, but he stabs over two points to put the Kiwis back in front.
23 mins: Hughes’ fingerprints are all over everything New Zealand are doing tonight. After a couple of forward hit-ups he heads left and Nicoll-Klokstad almost wriggles enough space to invite his left winger to overlap and score. The Storm No 7 then heads to the gainline and dabs ahead forcing Tedesco to gather under pressure, and the Australian skipper does just that – and then runs into his own man for an accidental offside. The Kiwis accept the shot for goal.
20 mins: Australia have evened the contest in midfield and Tedesco has started to get busy in the line. Munster has been scrappy early, limiting the fluency with ball in hand, perhaps still coming to grips with his partnership with Cleary?
Elland Road has quietened a smidge, drawing breath following that extraordinary try from Addo-Carr. The Fox, by the way, has just spilled the ball in contact on the left inside his own half, allowing New Zealand their first decent attacking platform for a while.
TRY! Australia 6-6 New Zealand (Addo-Carr, 16)
ONE OF THE GREAT RUGBY LEAGUE TRIES!
Australia were treading water on halfway when Hunt drifted towards the centre spot from right to left and unleashed a mighty bomb towards the left corner. It looked tactical until, like a cartoonish blur, Josh Addo-Carr is glimpsed haring down the left touchline and pouches a perfect mark on the run in time to turn his momentum into a dive over the line. That was extraordinary. The precision, the timing, the speed, the coordination. A brilliant moment worthy of any major event.
Cleary begins his night off the tee with a steadying conversion from the touchline.
14 mins: Again New Zealand attack dangerously on the back of an Australian error, this time a needless attempted strip with three green jerseys committed to the tackle. The Kiwis turn try-line defence into attack but this time the Kangaroo defence is up to the high ball
TRY! Australia 0-6 New Zealand (Hughes, 11)
Australia again make little ground and New Zealand eat up the metres with the help of a set restart. Papali’i sets up play on tackle five on the left wing, playing the ball without any shorts. Brown accepts the pass at first receiver and has a perfect angle to kick high crossfield for his chasers to compete overhead. The weighting is perfect, the pack forms, Manu climbs highest, Hughes is at his feet ready to accept the pat down and flop over the line for the opening try. Superbly executed from the Kiwis and reward for an enterprising start.
Rapana, with blood streaming from behind his left ear, chips over the simple conversion.
10 mins: Hunt immediately redeems himself, making a desperate try-line intervention to gather Smith’s chip and chase knowing he was going to get poleaxed in the process. That was a big moment with the Kiwis probing and prepared to gamble early in the set.
8 mins: Two sets in a row the Kagnaroos make little ground coming out of their own defensive end. The latter ending with a huge miscue from Ben Hunt trying to kick a 40-20 from dummy-half, succeeding only in walloping a massive boot miles out on the full. New Zealand have asserted themselves well up front early on.
6 mins: The Kiwis have come to play tonight. After a couple of tackles they go through hands to the left and Mulitalo can pin his ears back on the outside until he’s scragged just inside Australia’s half. The ball remains alive and New Zealand continue to press as play feeds to the right but another frenetic, unplanned play on the last tackle lets Australia off the hook.
4 mins: Australia get to work in A1 attacking territory. Cleary and Mitchell combine well on the left edge, Tedesco almost wriggles through in the middle, but the Kiwis defend securely. Cleary drops a perfect high kick to the left corner but New Zealand deal with that threat as well. Michael Maguire will be pleased with his side’s defence early.
2 mins: New Zealand accept Tedesco’s kick and the Kiwis drive to halfway before Hughes dummies to kick on the last, dashes an extra 20m but the subsequent kick from Rapana isn’t threatening. Still, a nice indication of Hughes’ intent tonight. Going the other way the Kangaroos are secure with their set and have a sniff when Cleary’s bomb is allowed to bounce and cause a scramble 20m out. The Kiwis don’t settle and from their second drive of the night Munster strips Hiku and prompts a loose carry in dangerous territory.
Here we go, the biggest clash in international rugby league is underway. Who will reach the world cup final?
New Zealand march upon Australia during their pre-match haka. It ends with clubmates Harry Grant and Brandon Smith embracing.
I’m not embarrassed to say if Nelson Asofa-Solomona came at me like that I would soil myself and run very fast towards the Pennines.
Your referee tonight is Ashley Klein, the Australian who has handled the biggest matches in the southern hemisphere all season.
The good news is it’s cool and dry in West Yorkshire. There is a bit of a southerly wind but it should not impose itself on proceedings.
The two squads are out on the Elland Road turf, Australia in green and gold, New Zealand in black and white.
As it is November 11, the two coaches have laid wreaths commemorating remembrance day and the ground observes a minute’s silence before the anthems.
World Cup tours sound glamorous, but the reality is weeks on end in hotels in cities you’d probably choose not to visit, as Gavin Willacy writes.
Guests exiting the lifts on the first floor of a rather smart hotel in Liverpool city centre last week would have got a shock if they turned left in search of the breakfast room rather than right. They would have walked in on NRL superstar Nathan Brown, clad only in his underpants, getting a massage. Welcome to life in camp at a World Cup: humdrum fare one way, international fame the next.
Mal Meninga’s halfback conundrum has proven a headache all tournament, but there are worse problems than tossing up between the two starting Origin sevens. John Davidson has more.
To Cleary or not to Cleary, that is the question that has been keeping Meninga from getting his eight hours every night these past three weeks. It’s a classic case of young vs old, newcomer vs veteran, New South Welshman vs Queenslander, even brunette vs blond, if you like. On the one hand is Cleary, 24, the Penrith Panther who led his team to three NRL grand finals in the past three years, winning two of them, and to some the best player on the planet. And on the other is ‘DCE’ – 33, an NRL grand final winner in 2011 and a Clive Churchill medal winner playing in his second World Cup. And who led Queensland to a State of Origin series over Cleary’s Blues earlier this year and has an already established partnership with Cam Munster, it must be noted.
New Zealand XVII
Michael Maguire has made one change with Briton Nikora coming in for Kenny Bromwich. Jared Waerea-Hargreaves continues to miss out with a hamstring injury but it remains a formidable line-up with its core of Melbourne Storm stalwarts.
1. Joseph Manu
2. Ronaldo Mulitalo
4. Peta Hiku
21. Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad
5. Jordan Rapana
6. Dylan Brown
7. Jahrome Hughes
8. Jesse Bromwich
9. Brandon Smith
10. James Fisher-Harris
11. Isaiah Papali’i
17. Briton Nikora
13. Joseph Tapine
16. Nelson Asofa-Solomona
14. Kieran Foran
15. Moses Leota
20. Isaac Liu
Mal Meninga has made two changes to the 17 that took care of Lebanon with Reagan Campbell-Gillard returning to the front row after injury and utility Ben Hunt returning from a week’s rest. Hunt’s versatility spells bad news for State of Origin teammate Daly Cherry-Evans. The selection dilemma at halfback appears to have been resolved in favour of Nathan Cleary with the NSW No 7 awarded playmaking duties alongside Cameron Munster.
1. James Tedesco
4. Valentine Holmes
10. Jack Wighton
8. Latrell Mitchell
9. Josh Addo-Carr
7. Cameron Munster
14. Nathan Cleary
5. Jake Trbojevic
3. Ben Hunt
6. Reagan Campbell-Gillard
17. Angus Crichton
21. Liam Martin
24. Isaah Yeo
18. Tino Fa’asuamaleaui
11. Cameron Murray
13. Patrick Carrigan
20. Harry Grant
Aaron Bower sets the scene from West Yorkshire as rugby league’s international heavyweights prepare for battle.
It is arguably the most mouthwatering semi-final in Rugby League World Cup history, and the coaches of Australia and New Zealand both believe they have the quality to book their place in next weekend’s final with victory at Elland Road on Friday night.
Hello everybody and welcome to live coverage of the first semi-final of the 2021 Rugby League World Cup. Australia vs New Zealand kicks off at Elland Road, Leeds at 7:45pm GMT (6:45am AEDT).
There may be two more matches remaining in this year’s tournament but this is surely the world cup’s high watermark. Australia, winner of eight of nine Paul Barrière trophies since 1975, against New Zealand, the only team to deny them in a title decider during this ascendancy.
If Mal Meninga’s all-powerful outfit are to be denied a third straight crown, it seems likely their near neighbours in black are the only mob that can stop them. The Kangaroos naturally start as favourites, but it is the Kiwis who begin as the number one ranked side in international rugby league.
Australia have cruised to this point without being challenged. Fiji made them work for ten or so minutes early in their opening match, since when it’s been exhibition stuff with records strewn in their slipstream.
That isn’t to say the Kangaroos have hit top form. Performances have been mixed, with the quarter-final victory over Lebanon arriving to much criticism at home. This has focussed predominantly on the cohesion among the playmakers with Meninga trying desperately to shoehorn State of Origin halfbacks Nathan Cleary and Daly Cherry-Evans into the same 17, along with a surfeit of NRL fullbacks.
New Zealand haven’t had such an easy time of it. The Cedars kept them honest in the group phase and Fiji gave them an almighty scare in the quarter-final. But this rivalry usually brings out the best in the Kiwis and they can be trusted to raise their game. In the past five meetings between the pair the ledger favours Australia only three to two.
This should be a belter.
I’ll be back shortly with the line-ups. Remember, you can contribute throughout the match by sending me an email or directing any tweets to @JPHowcroft.