Kiwis flop on game's biggest stage
THIS felt like the bad old days against the Kangaroos. Actually, it was probably worse than that, because at least the Kiwis of yesteryear played with spirit and heart, regardless of the odds.
Today's 34-8 loss to Australia in the Four Nations final was an embarrassment, especially given what was at stake.
The Kangaroos led 24-0 at half-time, as the Kiwis looked in complete disarray. After half an hour, New Zealand was completing at 38%, while Australia was at a staggering 93%.
Like the 2013 World Cup final, the Kiwis flopped on the biggest stage, depriving the occasion of the contest it deserved.
The Kiwis looked under-prepared, like they hadn't done any homework on what the Australians were going to throw at them. By the time they woke up, midway through the second half, the game was gone.
New Zealand had some early chances, but the match was effectively over by the 21st-minute mark, when Trent Merrin crossed for Australia's third try. The Tohu Harris experiment at No.6 didn't really work; the Storm back-rower gave his usual whole-hearted display - and was one of the best on the field for the Kiwis - but got exposed defensively by the slick Australian backline.
There will be questions over the future of coach David Kidwell, who hasn't done enough over the past two weeks to give any confidence that he is right man for the role.
The game started with one of those calls that frustrate throughout the NRL season; two defenders in the tackle, hands all over the ball, and referee Ben Cummins finds a knock-on by Solomone Kata. From there though, the Kiwis had to defend their error, but it looks like they hadn't practised their scrum defence all week as Blake Ferguson ran over untouched from a simple blindside scrum move.
New Zealand had to respond, and did, forcing four consecutive sets on the Kangaroos line, before an unfortunate Shaun Kenny-Dowall knock-on released all the pressure. The Australian defence at that time was magnificent, with Jesse Bromwich and Kevin Proctor both being stopped inches short of the line.
The Kiwis couldn't take their chances, exemplified by Shaun Johnson blowing a two-on-one opportunity after a superb Jordan Rapana break from inside his own half. That was as good as it got for New Zealand, as the Australians completely dominated the rest of the half.
The Kangaroos were almost faultless, while the Kiwis couldn't do anything right.
There were knock-ons, crazy passes and Australia even managed to score from a grubber, despite the in-goal areas at Anfield being the smallest in a league match in recent memory.
Josh Dugan crossed untouched in the 15th minute - as the left edge was again exposed - while Trent Merrin flopped over the line six minutes later, after Adam Blair was left one on one from a simple ruck play.
The Kangaroos were rampant, while the Kiwis were almost constantly on defence. There was no respite and it looked like Australia could score off every set.
Dugan completed the first-half shambles with a try from a Thurston grubber, after Jordan Kahu looked too casual in cleaning up the kick.
Darius Boyd scored five minutes after half-time - though it looked like he had failed to ground the ball over the try line - before the Kiwis finally stemmed the flow of points for a while.
Kahu finished off a right-edge move in the 56th minute, before a great solo effort by the same player 13 minutes later.
Boyd Cordner had the final say in the 74th minute.