New Zealand defied history, the form guide and the odds to score a sensational 34-20 victory over defending champions Australia in the rugby league World Cup final in Brisbane tonight.
The Kiwis’ triumph was sealed with 10 minutes to go with a rare penalty try, after fullback Lance Hohaia was held back by winger Joel Monaghan as he chased a Nathan Fien kick.
English video referee Steve Ganson ruled in New Zealand’s favour and Benji Marshall’s conversion took the Kiwis out to a scarcely believable 28-20 lead.
Prop Adam Blair’s try, New Zealand’s sixth, four minutes from time merely added the icing on the cake.
Australia had beaten the Kiwis 30-6 in the first weekend of the tournament and they had also won the previous eight transtasman tests.
They were also defending a near impregnable record of having claimed the past six World Cups going back to 1975 and they hadn’t lost a World Cup match against New Zealand in 13 previous meetings.
New Zealand, for their part, had never won the trophy, their best effort being runners-up twice to Australia.
But the Kiwis cut their down error rate and showed some good goalline defence, while also profiting from some uncharacteristic Australian mistakes.
The result was a massive let down for the local fans in the 50,559 crowd at Suncorp Stadium, especially as the Kangaroos had won all four of their previous matches in the tournament with ease.
But there was wild jubilation among the New Zealand players and their supporters when Australian-born English referee Ashley Klein blew fulltime.
Earlier, there was plenty of confrontation during the pre-match haka, with the Australians approaching the Kiwis until the players were virtually face-to-face.
The opening stages were evenly contested before the Kiwis appeared to taken a shock lead on six minutes.
A Fien kick into the in-goal was pounced on by Marshall, but replays showed the five-eighth just failed to ground the ball.
Australia hit back in the 12th minute thanks to a piece of individual brilliance from newly named International Player of the Year Billy Slater.
The fullback sliced through the defensive line to set up a try for skipper Darren Lockyer.
Slater was again creator four minutes later when his cut-out pass found David Willia ms in space and the winger raced down the touchline to cross in the corner untouched.
Johnathan Thurston’s goal made it 10-0 and it looked like the Kangaroos were going to run away with the contest when Lockyer was first to a Cameron Smith grubber, but knocked on.
The let-off signalled the start of a comeback by the Kiwis, who finally got on the board after forcing two repeat sets befo re lock Jeremy Smith barged his way over.
Four minutes later Marshall broke through a hole and had the ball knocked out his hands by Anthony Laffranchi.
David Fa’alogo picked up the loose ball and sent Jerome Ropati over for the centre’s 10th tries in his 10 tests.
Luke’s second conversion took in the Kiwis out to an unexpected 12-10 lead.
However, Australia, who showed a willingness to move the ball wide, replied with a superb try just before halftime.
Lockyer was involved three times as the ball went through several pairs of hands, before the Australian skipper finished off the move.
Thurston’s goal gave Australia a 16-12 halftime lead.
The Kiwis almost struck back early in the second half, when a great long ball from Hohaia sent Manu Vatuvei tow ards the corner and the winger was only just forced out by Williams.
New Zealand sustained the pressure as errors began creeping into the Australian game.
On the back of another period of New Zealand possession, Hohaia stepped his way past three defenders to score.
Luke added the extras to edge the Kiwis back in front.
Slater, having been so impressive in the first half, th en produced a howler on defence.
He took a kick by Marshall beautifully, but as he was shadowed towards the sideline, he flicked the ball behind him, only to have it go to an unmarked Marshall, who gratefully accepted an easy try.
Down 22-16, the Kangaroos closed to two points again when Thurston and Lockyer combined to send Greg Inglis over.
But the Kiwis’ late double completed New Zealand’s greatest moment in international rugby league. NZPA