New Zealand cemented their place in the Four Nations Final with a thrilling 16-14 win over England on Saturday at Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin.
In a match featuring six tries, all by the wingers, the Kiwis just prevailed before a boisterous crowd of 15,836 in the first league Test in Dunedin since 1928.
The England backs surprised with their innovative attack, especially big winger Ryan Hall, and the Kiwis breathed a sigh of relief at the final siren.
New Zealand were intent on improvement after their unconvincing 14-12 win over Samoa, while England had to overcome the disappointment of their unlucky 16-12 loss to Australia.
There were two late changes, Thomas Leuluai starting and swapping places with Issac Luke who went to the interchange while Daryl Clark replaced Josh Hodgson at hooker for England.
New Zealand made the best possible start with a try after less than two minutes when Hall was unable to gather a pin-point bomb from Shaun Johnson and Jason Nightingale gathered to score. Johnson's conversion made it 6-0.
But England struck back five minutes later with a sweeping move which gave Hall the overlap and a try just inside the left corner flag. Gareth Widdop's conversion bounced away off the left upright.
New Zealand almost scored their second try after 22 minutes but Manu Vatuvei lost the ball over the line in the tackle.
England swept back to attack immediately and right winger Josh Charnley scored in the corner from a long cut-out pass. Widdop's conversion attempt again hit the upright.
But the Kiwis regained the lead 12 minutes from the break when Nightingale, who had earlier left the field to have a cut to his head stitched, scored his second try after Dean Whare provided the overlap.
Johnson's wide-angled conversion made it 12-8.
England were attacking strongly on the siren and had stretched the Kiwis defensively in the first half, their two tries by the wingers exposing New Zealand out wide.
England almost made a perfect start to the second spell but fullback Peta Hiku just managed to get across to dislodge the ball from Hall's grasp as he dived for the corner.
New Zealand made the most of the reprieve, sweeping down the field where Vatuvei took the last pass to score in the corner. Johnson narrowly missed the conversion but the Kiwis had a handy 16-8 lead.
But England were not done and, when the Kiwis dropped a high ball, Hall was put into space and scored his second try. Widdop converted superbly and it was a two-point game.
There was everything to play for going into the last quarter. Simon Mannering almost scored, Johnson split the defence with a dazzling run, but the difference in the end came down to Widdop's two "posters" and Johnson's superior accuracy.
New Zealand 16. Tries: Nightingale (2), Vatuvei. Goals: Johnson (2/3). England 14. Tries: Hall (2), Charnley. Goals: Widdop (1/3).
That was a great game. The crowd was great and treated the English supporters with respect...everyone was in good humor. 16,000 turned up for the test which was a good result when you think that league was dead and buried in Dunedin 10 years ago. Back then, no players no clubs nothing....now in the Otago area there are 3000 players so with luck we'll see more tests in Dunedin.
England can consider themselves unlucky. Those two kicks that hit the posts would have give England at least a draw.
Bentham did a good job as well i thought. lol though at one stage i screamed out he was a cheating pommy but looking back that was a touch harsh. I don'y know why league continues to persist with none neutral refs, no other sport does that and it leaves the door open for crap comments like mine.
The Kangaroos have done enough to overcome a determined Samoa 44-18 and book a rematch against New Zealand in the Four Nations final in Wellington next Saturday.
In front of a vocal crowd of 18,456 at WIN Stadium in Wollongong, featuring a very heavy Samoan contingent, the green-and-golds produced a three-try blitz late in the second half of the opening stanza to blow the game open.
Despite a determined effort from the outsiders the Aussies always looked in control from the time halfback Cooper Cronk opened the scoring in just the second minute.
The match featured first ever Test tries for David Klemmer, Josh Mansour and debutant Josh Jackson, while unlucky rookie Sione Mata'utia selflessly passed for Cronk's try then was denied himself due to a forward pass in the lead-up.
In Australia's first set, after some great work from Inglis to put Mata'utia in space just inside the Aussies' half, the 18-year-old showed maturity beyond his years to streak downfield and patiently hold up the pass as he ran Samoa fullback Tim Simona away from his supporting runner, then threw a perfectly-timed pass to Cronk.
Inglis was next to cross in the 11th minute after a series of passes on the last at the Samoa line, including a couple of offloads from Corey Parker – one early in the play and the last to put Inglis over.
Samoa had the better of the next 15 minutes but repeatedly let the Aussies off the hook when they got into attacking position, often piggy-backing the Kangaroos out of their own end.
Joseph Leilua, who was so dominant against New Zealand, was the chief culprit, conceding four first-half ruck penalties leading to a caution from the officials.
The Samoans did peg the margin back to four points on 20 minutes through fullback Tim Simona, who put a big fend on Aussie skipper Cameron Smith then ran around Aaron Woods to cross next to the posts.
But the floodgates opened in the 26th minute when Cronk put Inglis through a gap that opened up when Ben Roberts fell for Sam Thaiday's decoy run, with the fullback's second try enough to earn him man-of-the-match honours.
Four minutes later Daly Cherry-Evans streaked 60 metres from a scrum for a great solo try when he stood up Kyle Stanley and outpaced Simona to the corner.
It became three tries in eight minutes when David Klemmer bagged his first four-pointer in green and gold.
The rangy prop – who repeatedly dented the Samoa line with massive kick-off returns – smashed onto a short ball to burst over under the posts, sending the Aussies to the break up 28-6. With 85 metres from just seven first-half carries, Klemmer added plenty of grunt to the Kangaroos' running game.
Needing to win by at least nine to progress the Samoans were never realistically going to come back from a 22-point half-time deficit but refused to go away and were first to score after the break through Roberts who produced a big left foot step at the Aussie line.
It was to be as close as they got though, with Cronk getting his second in the 62nd minute to effectively end the contest.
Samoa skipper David Fa'alogo kept things interesting, charging over shortly after, before a late pair of tries to Josh Papalii and Josh Mansour blew the score out to 44-18.
On the refereeing: I don't like non-neutral refs, it's just poor. And unnecessary. And I'd say that the general trend in this tournament has been for the refereeing to be too lax; presumably in the interests of 'letting the game flow', p-t-bs were slow throughout the comp, and, worse, the cynical, and often dangerous, 'taking out' of kickers, which I've long thought as being a blight on our game, is getting seriously out of hand. The principle seems to be, make sure every time you get the kicker on his backside, to make sure he has no chance of putting team-mates on-side. I've argued before that if a defender jumps on his own try-line to catch an attacking bomb and an opposing player so much as brushes him whilst he's in the air, it's a penalty every time. However, a mid-air kicker (and they usually are technically in mid-air) in the middle of the park is fair game for a cheap shot. This is wrong, wrong, wrong.