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Conquering Kiwis underdogs no longer

By Wayne Heming 14/11/2010 05:00:16 PM Comments (0)

A Tri Nations, a World Cup and now a Four Nations title in the space of five years suggest New Zealand victories over Australia in the biggest rugby league matches should no longer be called upsets.

Australian hooker Cameron Smith admitted as much after the undaunted Kiwis inflicted another painful wound on the Kangaroos with a bruising, last-gasp 16-12 win in Saturday night's Four Nations final.

Asked if the Kiwis can rightly claim the balance of power has shifted across the Tasman, Smith said: "I guess in a way they can."

"Australia is certainly not the dominant country like it used to be, there's no doubt about it."

"You look at the players who are performing in the NRL that have Kiwi heritage, they're great players, they're getting great coaching and they're getting better every year.

"Gone are the days where a strong Australian side came up against a Kiwi side that were underdogs every time and the Australia side would just towel them up.

"It's good for us.

"We know we need to improve and that we can't just rely on pulling on the Australian jumper and running out in from of our home crowd and that will get us over the line.

"We need to go out and play well for 80 minutes and that's when we will win some Test matches against them."

Unheralded coach Brian McClennan started the trend at Elland Road in Leeds, with the stunning 24-0 defeat of Wayne Bennett's Kangaroos in the 2005 Tri Nations final.

Stephen Kearney continued it with some coaching help from Bennett in the 34-20 World Cup final victory in Brisbane that marked the end of Ricky Stuart's reign as Kangaroos coach.

And new Parramatta Eels mentor Kearney was the boss, with captain Benji Marshall again the matchwinner, as the Kiwis showed why they love playing at Suncorp Stadium with their Four Nations clincher on Saturday.

But Kearney was diplomatic, saying he believed New Zealand had not overtaken Australia as rugby league's superpower.

"There is still a gap between us, we are slowly taking steps to close it," he said.

"For us it is an ongoing process."

But consider New Zealand lost the 1999 Tri Nations final 20-18 only after a late try to Wendell Sailor and were again edged out by a Darren Lockyer golden point try in the 2006 final and their record could be even better.

Rugby League's convoluted and controversial world rankings are done on a three-year system by the International Federation.

Australia started 2010 in number one spot ahead of New Zealand, a position that could change when the new rankings are released next year.

Tough Australian forward Paul Gallen agreed the Kiwis have taken their game to the next level.

"We've obviously been the best team for a long time but we've only won this competition back-to-back once in 11 years so it's not like we've dominated every single series." said Gallen.

"New Zealand play in the NRL every single week and they're a good side.

"They hung in and got us tonight and they deserve the credit."

While it was a disappointing farewell for Australian captain Darren Lockyer in his last Test on home soil, he also did not want to deny New Zealand their moment of glory.

"It was disappointing to lose in that fashion, it wasn't a great night for us on a few fronts," said Lockyer, whose ability to pull games out of the fire was trumped by rival No.6 Benji Marshall.

"We'll have to wait 12 months before we get another shot but right now we're all thinking about the disappointment of losing."

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