x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Australia lay down marker ahead of Four Nations final

Tim Sheens, the Australia coach, claimed his side 'fired a shot across the bows' as they warmed up for the final with a 34-20 victory over New Zealand in a last group match.

Australia's Darius Boyd, right, looks to get past New Zealand's Sija Manu at Eden Park in Auckland.
Australia's Darius Boyd, right, looks to get past New Zealand's Sija Manu at Eden Park in Auckland.

Tim Sheens, the Australia coach, claimed his side "fired a shot across the bows" as they warmed up for the Four Nations final with a 34-20 victory over New Zealand in a last group match marred by an ugly bout of bottle-throwing.

The double-header at Eden Park drew a bumper crowd of 44,324 - the second highest attendance for a rugby league match in New Zealand - but the home fans' excitement turned to frustration in the second half as the Kangaroos cruised to victory.

The Australia captain Cameron Smith complained about fans booing during the singing of the national anthem and claimed bottles were thrown at him as he lined up a goalkick while the English referee Richard Silverwood had to stop the game at one point to allow the litter to be cleared from the pitch.

"It came over my left shoulder, I'm not too sure what it was," said Smith. "They try and do that to put you off but I just had to compose myself and put it though the posts and I did that.

"All that is out of our control. I was probably ducking more than the other boys because I was on the bench and closer to the crowd.

"But I thought the officials did a good job. They stopped the game once to calm the crowd down and get the bottles off the field.

"The crowd are obviously very passionate about their side and very passionate about their country and they're trying to get their side over the line but we got on with the job."

Sheens said: "Luckily they were plastic bottles. It's disappointing but the boys really held together well.

"At Lang Park you used to get things thrown at you if you were a New South Welshman."

Sheens chose to rest the captain Darren Lockyer and full-back Billy Slater but the Kangaroos still had too much class for their full-strength opponents and, with home advantage at Brisbane's Suncorp Stadium, they will be red-hot favourites to retain their crown in the final.

Australia seized control inside 23 minutes when they led 18-2 thanks to tries from scrum-half Cooper Cronk, winger Brett Morris and centre Brent Tate, all converted by the immaculate boot of Smith.

Substitute forward Frank Pritchard pulled a try back for the home side on 30 minutes and Kiwis captain Benji Marshall and Issac Luke kicked penalty goals to make it 18-10 at the interval but the Aussies put the game to bed with two more tries early in the second half.

Tate and Morris both made light of some sloppy defensive work to double their tally and debutant Todd Carney added both goals to stretch his side's lead to 34-10.

"I'm real proud of the boys," added Sheens. "We played smart footie and scored in the corners with some smart plays.

"It was always going to be about next week but we fired a shot across their bow, for sure."

New Zealand rallied to make the final scoreline respectable with late tries from winger Jason Nightingale and centre Shaun Kenny-Dowall, both crafted by the sleight of hand of Marshall, who could not hide his disappointment.

"Tonight just wasn't good enough," he said. "We let ourselves down, we let our fans down and ultimately we let the country down.

"The atmosphere was probably the best I've ever run out to. The people who turned out was amazing for the game.

"We've got a lot to play for next week and we'll be trying to rectify that. I know a lot of the boys would love to play right now if they could. Everyone is hurting."

Scores

Australia 34 (Tries: Brett Morris 2, Cooper Cronk, Brent Tait, Darius Boyd, Chris Lawrence. Goals: Cameron Smith 3; Todd Carney 2), 

New Zealand 20 (Tries: Frank Pritchard, Jason Nightingale, Shaun Kenny-Dowall; Goals Benji Marshall 4). HT 18-10.

England 36 (Tries: Tony Clubb 4, Luke Robinson 2, Ben Harrison; Goals: Ben Westwood 3, Gareth Widdop), 

Papua New Guinea 10 (Tries: Makali Aizue, Emmanuel Yere; Goal: Dion Aiye). HT 24-0.