The World Cup was scheduled to catch fire with the battle of the Antipodes as Australia took on New Zealand in the first semi-final at Elland Road in Leeds. Australia were overall favourites to win the World Cup, but New Zealand came into the game ranked number one in the world.
New Zealand were given a fourteen point start on the handicap coupon for the Remembrance Day clash after they struggled to come through their semi-final against Fiji, whereas Australia thrashed Lebanon to reach the semi-finals.
The sides were eighty minutes away from Old Trafford and a World Cup Final meeting with either England or Tonga who were scheduled to settle their differences on Saturday afternoon. It was the one hundred and forty-second meeting between the two sides, New Zealand only having won on thirty-four occasions.
After absorbing some early pressure from Australia, it was the Kiwi´s who took the early upper hands as they played their rugby in the Kangaroos half. On ten minutes Jarome Hughes grabbed a deserved first try of the game when Manu jumped to take a high Dylan Brown kick and passed inside for the scrum half to drop over the line. Jordan Rapana added the conversion for a 6-0 lead.
Australia scored a try from nothing on fifteen when Josh Addo-Carr sprinted from the forty-metre line to take a towering bomb from Ben Hunt and dive in at the corner. Nathan Cleary added the conversion from wide to level the scores.
The game was living up to its pre-match promise.
Cameron Munster was caught offside on twenty-three as he collected a loose ball. Rapana was thrown the ball and slotted the resulting penalty between the uprights from twenty metres out.
Just before the half hour Joseph Manu slipped off a tackle on Jack Wighton and passed from the ground to Valentine Holmes who went over in the corner. Cleary couldn´t add the extras from the touchline, Australia in the lead for the first time in the game.
Another sensational try on thirty-six saw the Kiwi´s snatch the lead for the third time in the game. A sensational break from Ronaldo Mulitalo saw him draw the defender before passing inside to the supporting Brown to go twenty and dive over. Rapana added the conversion for 14-10 at the interval after a sensational forty minutes of rugby.
Four minutes after the restart, New Zealand had a try ruled out for offside. A mass brawl broke out on forty-six, but referee Klein left both sides with thirteen players. It was becoming brutal.
Australia were level again on fifty-three, Cameron Murray crashing between four tacklers and stretching for the line to ground by the right upright. Cleary added the extras to edge his side back into the lead.
Peta Hiku had a try denied for the Kiwi´s on seventy-three when he leapt from outside the field of play to ground on the touchline after New Zealand kicked early in the tackle count. Australia held on for the win by a two-point margin, the favourites making progress.
A sensational game from the first whistle to the final hooter, and the best of the competition so far living up to all the pre-match billing. Two totally dedicated teams threw everything that they had into eighty minutes of end-to-end action. It is Australia who make it to the final, and New Zealand who go home, but they were both a credit to the greatest game and served up an absolute feast of top-notch rugby league.
Australia: Tedesco, Holmes (T), Wighton, Mitchell, Addo-Carr (T), Munster, Cleary (2G), Trbojevic, Hunt, Campbell-Gillard, Crichton, Matin, Yeo. Subs: Grant, Carrigan, Murray (T), Fa´asuamaleaui.
New Zealand: Manu, Rapana (3G), Hiku, Nicoll-Klokstad, Mulitalo, Brown (T), Hughes (T), Bromwich J, Smith, Fisher-Harris, Papali´i, Nikora, Tapine. Subs: Foran, Leota, Asofa-Solomona, Liu.
Score Progression: 0-4, 0-6, 4-6, 6-6, 6-8, 10-8, 10-12, 10-14 : HT : 14-14, 16-14 : FT .
Lead Exchanges: New Zealand - Square – New Zealand – Australia – New Zealand – Square – Australia.
Referee: Ashley Klein.
Attendance: 28,113 at Elland Road, Leeds.