2014 Four Nations Final: Shaun Johnson proud of New Zealand win; Australia gracious in defeat
Last Updated: 15/11/14 12:57pm
Shaun Johnson staked his claim for the 2014 Golden Boot by helping New Zealand avenge their World Cup humiliation by Australia with a nail-biting 22-18 victory in the final of the Four Nations Series.
"Magic" Johnson broke English hearts in the semi-finals of the World Cup at Wembley and 12 months on it was the Kangaroos who fell under his spell in Wellington.
The magnificent New Zealand Warriors half-back showed his class by carving out a stunning first-half try for Manu Vatuvei before scoring a sensational solo effort that put the Kiwis on their way to their first back-to-back wins over the Kangaroos for 60 years.
"It's been awesome playing here in Wellington," Johnson told the 25,183 crowd at the Westpac Stadium after English referee Phil Bentham blew time on Australia's thrilling fightback.
"We'd waited quite a while for this and I'm just so proud of the boys. It's a dream come true.
We worked so hard this tour. It's been such an awesome tournament for the boys and to finish it off like that has just been unreal.
"We worked so hard this tour. It's been such an awesome tournament for the boys and to finish it off like that has just been unreal."
Johnson was named man of the match for the second time in a month against Australia after leading them to a 30-12 victory in Brisbane, but he was quick to pay tribute to the dominant Kiwis pack.
"I feel that (coach Stephen Kearney) has just given me a lot of confidence just to have a crack and our forwards have been unreal this whole tournament," he said.
"They laid the platform and it's been us on the back of it. I like running and I was able to do that tonight."
The Kangaroos had opened the scoring through centre Michael Jennings but New Zealand dominated the second quarter to establish a 14-4 half-time lead.
Right winger Jason Nightingale scored their first try before Johnson's dancing feet enabled left winger Vatuvei to squeeze over for the second and the scrum-half added a penalty to his two touchline conversions to open up an eight-point advantage.
It was down to just two when teenager Sione Mata'utia went over for the Kangaroos within two minutes of the re-start but Johnson sliced through their defence and evaded the tackle of full-back Greg Inglis to touch down on 57 minutes.
Congratulations to the Kiwi boys on a fantastic tournament. You've gone through undefeated and that's a pretty special effort.
Vatuvei produced another classic finish four minutes later to become his country's leading tryscorer in Tests with 20.
Johnson, proving he is human after all, hit the woodwork with both conversion attempts and the misses began to look costly when substitute Ben Hunt scored Australia's third try five minutes from the end.
Skipper Cameron Smith kicked his third goal to bring his side to within touching distance and the Kiwis were relieved to see Bentham rule a knock-on when Mata'utia went for the corner in the last minute.
Australia might have expected the Englishman to refer the decision to the video referees, which would have produced a close call, but Smith was typically stoical in defeat.
"Congratulations to the Kiwi boys on a fantastic tournament," he said. "You've gone through undefeated and that's a pretty special effort.
"It's been a bit of an up-and-down tournament for us. We didn't start too well but I thought in the last couple of weeks we played some good footie. Tonight we were pretty brave but unfortunately we came up against a better side."
It was New Zealand's third tournament success, following their wins in 2005 in Leeds and 2010 in Brisbane, but the first under captain Simon Mannering.
"It's been a great tournament," Mannering said. "The boys put in everything they could and it paid dividends tonight."