Sun, Oct 15, 2006 - Page 24 News List

Superior Kangaroos crush Kiwis

OPENING WIN Handling errors by New Zealand and three intercept tries gave Australia victory in the first match of this year's Rugby League Tri-Nations series

AFP , AUCKLAND

A clearly superior Australian side won the opening match of the Tri-Nations rugby league series yesterday, downing defending champions New Zealand 30-18.

The Kiwis had first points on the board when Nigel Vagana barged his way through a human wall in the sixth minute, but they never looked serious contenders again.

The try merely served to stir up the Kangaroos, still irked by the drubbing they received from New Zealand in last year's final in Leeds.

They were far more incisive with the ball, and their attacking skills carved holes through New Zealand defense as they chalked up five tries to three.

In the halves, skipper Darren Lockyer and halfback Johnathan Thurston continually put the Kiwis under pressure which saw New Zealand forced into costly errors.

Three of the Australian tries followed intercepts.

Lockyer felt his team had a sound opening to the series.

"I thought we ground it out pretty well. I just thought the guys went pretty good -- Johnathan Thurston played well, Karmichael was good at the back and all the debutants played as well," he said. "I know both teams will build on that, and we can only get better, as will New Zealand."

Vagana said losing possession killed the Kiwis' chances.

"We coughed up the ball too much. We were always going to struggle," he said. "They got three tries off the back of three intercepts so if you take that into account the game was a bit closer than the scores indicated."

Fullback Brent Webb also pointed to the loss of possession as the key to New Zealand's loss.

"I think we fell apart around the ruck and you can't give the Aussies that sort of room," Webb said.

The match featured a first-half brawl midway through the opening spell, when Australia, up 12-6 through two tries by fullback Karmichael Hunt, had threatened to score again.

But center Mark Gasnier's pass to winger Matt King went into touch. When King was bumped to the ground as he was running though, he took exception and bounced up to throw a punch at marker Manu Vatuvei.

That was the signal for players from both sides to join in.

Shortly after order was restored, Kiwi David Kidwell produced the tackle of the match when his shoulder charge left giant Australian prop Willie Mason dazed and needing time to recover.

Mason had been notable pre-match for mouthing off as the Kiwis performed their haka, and finished the match with his right eye almost closed.

After Vagana's opening try and Hunt's twin reply, Australia scored again when a pass from halfback Stacey Jones went straight to Gasnier who ran 80 meters to score.

Thurston, starting a Test for the first time, converted all three tries and added a penalty to have Australia up 20-6 at halftime.

Midway through the second spell, the Kiwis narrowed the gap when interchange back Jerome Ropati forced his way over under the posts.

But the Kangaroos re-established their cushion when lock Mark O'Meley barged over from a couple of meters and then Greg Inglis finished off a fine touchline move with a superb grounding in the corner.

The two sides meet again in Melbourne next week.

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