The Kiwis are lamenting a defensive error labeled “unacceptable” after the Australians scored 16-14 to secure a place in the Rugby League World Cup final on Saturday morning (AEDT).
In a semi-final at Elland Road in Leeds, it was an incredibly soft effort by Cameron Murray in the 54th minute that determined the result.
The South Sydney captain took a regulation carry about 10 yards out and slipped through a weak New Zealand defence, embarrassing Brandon Smith and Nelson Asofa-Solomona.
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It was a bitterly disappointing moment in an otherwise stellar semi-final between the fierce trans-Tasman rivals, with sparkling tries, cracking hits and spirited scuffles fueling the showdown.
“The Kiwis are in incredulous mode,” Andrew Voss said on the Fox League broadcast as Murray swiped through.
“Two soft tackles, right under the sticks,” added Leon Pryce.
“At this level, that’s not acceptable.”
Cooper Cronk was scathing about Smith’s effort.
“For a guy who’s fighting over a loose bit of bone or food on the ground in his game, if you go back and look at what Brandon Smith did, or the lack of work he did for that attempt by Cameron Murray, I think it’s going to hurt him for a long time,” Cronk said.
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The Murray try tied the scores to 14-14 and a Nathan Cleary conversion gave the Kangaroos their 16-14 buffer.
The Kiwis were painfully close to atoning for the defensive gaffe as Peta Hiku chased down a Jahrome Hughes kick in the 73rd minute.
Josh Addo-Carr made a mess trying to clear the Hughes kick, but Hiku planted the ball on the sideline.
Kangaroos back rower Liam Martin, who had a series of fights with Panthers teammate James Fisher-Harris, was named player of the match – a nod to the punch he delivered as a ball runner and in defense.
But Addo-Carr delivered the all-time high, racing at full throttle to pick up a Ben Hunt kick and score an incredible try 15 minutes into the game.
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“What did we just see?” said Fox.
“Green-and-gold magic from Australia!
“Addo-Carr – I don’t know what speed he was driving, but I know I would have to be in a car to be that fast.”
After beating Fiji 42-8, Scotland 84-0, Italy 66-6 and Lebanon 48-4, Australia faced the first real challenge of the tournament in the clash with New Zealand.
England and Samoa will face each other in the second semi-final at the Emirates Stadium in London from 1:30 a.m. (AEDT) on Sunday.
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