Rugby League World Cup: Australia into final with 16-14 win over New Zealand thanks to Cameron Murray's second-half try
A second-half try from Cameron Murray proved enough to seal victory for Australia in Friday's Rugby League World Cup semi-final at Elland Road; the Kangaroos face either England or Samoa in the final at Old Trafford on Saturday November 19
Last Updated: 12/11/22 11:33am
Cameron Murray's converted try broke New Zealand's hearts and sent Australia back into the Rugby League World Cup final with a 16-14 win in Friday's semi-final.
Converted tries from half-back pair Jahrome Hughes and Dylan Brown plus a penalty goal from Jordan Rapana helped the Kiwis into a 14-10 lead at the break following a breathless first 40 minutes at Elland Road.
Josh Addo-Carr's record-equalling 12th try of the tournament so far and an unconverted score from Valentine Holmes ensured the reigning champions remained in touching distance, and Murray's score and the conversion from Nathan Cleary edged them ahead with just under 25 minutes to go.
New Zealand kept plugging away and Peta Hiku had two possible tries chalked off by the video referee, but the 2008 World Cup winners just fell narrowly short as Australia held out to book their spot at Old Trafford.
Story of the game
Back at the scene of their shock 2005 Four Nations triumph, the Kiwis - urged on by the vast majority of the 28,113 crowd at Elland Road - looked the better side for long periods but were eventually edged out by the Kangaroos, who will be aiming for a ninth win in the last 10 World Cups in the final.
New Zealand's biggest threat came from full-back Joey Manu, who demonstrated his athleticism early on, reaching into the air to palm the ball back from Brown's high kick for Hughes to score the opening try.
Ben Hunt returned at hooker as Australia looked to justify their status as World Cup favourites. Reagan Campbell-Gillard also came back into the front row as coach Mal Meninga shuffled his pack for what was set to be the Kangaroos' biggest test of the tournament so far.
The Kiwis, chastened by their close shave against Fiji in the quarter-finals last week, made two changes to their second row with Isaish Papali'i and Briton Nikora both coming in.
Rapana kicked the first of his three goals to make it 6-0 but it was level on 16 minutes when pacey winger Addo-Carr raced onto Ben Hunt's long kick downfield for his 12th try of the tournament, which equalled the record set by his team-mate Holmes in 2017.
A Rapana penalty nudged his side back in front but the Aussies went ahead for the first time on 29 minutes when centre Jack Wighton skipped past Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad and, when not fully held by Manu, had the presence of mind to get the ball out for Holmes to touch down at the corner.
The game was end to end and the lead changed hands for the third time in the first half when fast hands released Ronaldo Mulitalo up the left wing and Brown was in support to finish off, Rapana's third goal giving the Kiwis a 14-10 interval lead.
Australia 16-14 New Zealand score summary
Australia: Tries – Josh Addo-Carr, Valentine Holmes, Cameron Murray; Goals – Nathan Cleary (2).
New Zealand: Tries – Jahrome Hughes, Dylan Brown; Goals – Jordan Rapana (3).
They thought they had extended their advantage early in the second half when centre Hiku touched down, but the try was ruled out for offside from Hughes' kick and a momentary lapse in concentration by the Kiwis proved crucial as second-rower Murray dived through a melee of defenders to score from a tapped penalty.
That knocked the wind out of the Kiwis' sails and, as the play became scrappy, they were forced to chase the game.
The crowd were brought to life with a break from the ever-prominent Manu and the excitement reached fever pitch when Hughes' grubber kick to the corner eluded Addo-Carr, but Hiku was denied once more when slow-motion replays indicated a foot on the touchline.
Meninga: Kangaroos can get even better
Australia coach Mal Meninga fired a warning that the Kangaroos can get even better after they edged New Zealand 16-14 in a classic World Cup semi-final.
"We haven't had a match like that for a number of years and I felt that in my experience that was one of the best Test matches I've been involved in," said the vastly-experienced Meninga.
"I think we can be better because of that. We can learn from that but that's what playing for your country produces - games like that where you've got to find that little bit extra in the way you play, or in your effort levels to get that victory."
New Zealand coach Michael Maguire bemoaned "a couple of moments" that could have cost his side a historic triumph and a place in the World Cup final.
"I'm definitely proud of the players," Maguire said. "It was one hell of an effort and it could have gone either way, and unfortunately it didn't go our way.
"I really believe that we are closing the gap in a big way at this level and we need to play more to find the moments it takes to to win it.
"It could have been a different story and I feel for them. You look at your players and they deserve the opportunity to go again next week. I'm just really shattered for the players."
Australia now advance to the final at Old Trafford on Saturday, November 19 (kick-off 4pm). They face the winners of Saturday's semi-final at the Emirates Stadium between England and Samoa (2.30pm).