Australia Defeats New Zealand In Four Nations Opener

Australia has defeated World Cup and Four Nations holders New Zealand by a scoreline of 24-12 in Warrington in a game that was marred by poor refereeing and a dangerous tackle that will probably not receive any punishment at all.

This was an interesting, if not exciting game to watch. Both teams to me looked like they had been effected by the demands of travel and the completely different set of conditions they faced in Newcastle.

Australia looked to settle first and their game plan was very simple. Straight up the middle of the field, Cameron Smith guiding the team around the park (He had a fantastic game) and not really looking to challenge New Zealand out wide at all.

For the Kiwi’s they looked to spread the ball early, too early, and they paid for it with a number of handling errors and a lack of possession early on.

It must be said that the refereeing in this game was once again dire, thanks to the efforts of another English referee’s who was incapable of controlling a game at this level. The holding down in tackles was the worst I have seen in a long time, and the referee just let both sides get away with so much. There were also a number of forward pass and knock on calls that were bad, and really, it wouldn’t surprise me if both Australia and New Zealand called for an NRL official to control them should they both make the final of the Four Nations.

One big issue that keeps coming up for Australia is their inability to go on with the job when they get a decent lead against New Zealand.

We saw it happen again in this game when Australia got away to what should have been a game winning lead, the Kiwi’s just grind their way back into the game.

Australia has a major issue up front. Matt Scott was fantastic but he was a lone figure in terms of raw go forward for the Kangaroo’s. As Australia starts to get deep into its forward rotation of the bench, the Kiwi pack just powers through them, and that is where they start to come back in these games.

I felt like the combination of Benji Marshall and Keiron Foran didn’t really click in this game. Marshall once again didn’t show what he is capable of, and while Foran tried hard, it just wasn’t working. I wouldn’t be surprised if we see New Zealand look to try Nathan Fien and Marshall in the halves in their next game against Wales at Wembley Stadium next weekend.

Another think they need to look at is the way Marshall is playing the line. Took many times he was looking to create space in the middle of the field with his footwork, then throwing long cut out passes wide. In English conditions what Marshall needs to be doing is getting his forwards running as options for him and hitting the best option with a short ball.

For Australia, Thurston really took over control of this game as it wore on. Lockyer to me looked a bit off his game, possibly from a hit he took early on and the fact his face is being held together with metal plates! Cooper Cronk came on later in the game and its interesting because, I think Cronk is very well suited to playing New Zealand. He really straightens up the attack and asks questions out wide with a short passing game and his ability to run the ball. When he comes into the side as a starter next year it could be a game changer in terms of how these contests between Australia and New Zealand pan out.

Issac Luke again went in with a dangerous attacking tackle at the legs of a held defender when he targeted David Shillington in this game. Shillington left the field and will have an MRI to determine the damage caused, but this is the second time in as many games that Luke has done this and it was as close as we have seen to a players leg or ankle being broken.

The only other injury concern that has been reported is a rib injury to Cooper Cronk although during the game New Zealand fullback Kevin Locke looked to sustain a bit of a neck injury that troubled him through the remainder of the game, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he was rested next week to give that time to heal.

Overall the biggest thing to come out of this game was that both sides got a much needed hit out, it was a tough game that made both teams work, and they got up to speed with the conditions in front of a nearly sell out crowd in Warrington where I’m told the atmosphere was poor.

I see improvement coming for both sides, much more improvement for the Kiwi’s, and I still think New Zealand look like the team to win this competition. I really do think they will play their way into form once again.

Last but not least, about the Sky UK commentators…

I’d like to apologize to them for Australia’s general existence, which seems to piss them off for 80 minutes. I’d like to thank Phil Clarke for pointing out how the game is changing, and that now, hookers needs to have a kicking game (Now being the last 1980’s!). I’d also like to thank them for the comedy value they brought to the game. Constant references to how England would fare against both sides, as though England is of any relevance in Rugby League any more, it was great!

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