Four Nations Final | Five Key Points
New-look Kangaroos world's best again, Kiwis down on key contributors, Australia ruthless in punishing New Zealand mistakes and Darius Boyd confirms his custodial class.
Kangaroos No.1 after generational change
It was a squad selected with an eye to the 2017 Rugby League World Cup yet by injecting young blood into the institution that is the Kangaroos, coach Mal Meninga brought about instant results and a return to the No.1 world ranking.
From the moment they took the field in their Test debuts in Perth a month ago Shannon Boyd, Tyson Frizell and Valentine Holmes have looked confident and assured; Blues reject Trent Merrin has enjoyed a career renaissance in the second half of the season and David Klemmer has developed from brash tearaway to international powerhouse.
Their inclusion and energy has reinvigorated the fulcrum of the Kangaroos attack who have been able to combine an up-tempo approach with composure that has kept their opponents safely at bay for the past five Tests.
We could have excused some teething problems; instead we've got a Kangaroos team that bit back and bit back hard.
Too much left for too few for Kiwis
Even with Thomas Leuluai in the team the playmaking responsibility fell largely on Shaun Johnson's shoulders so with Tohu Harris in the halves and Lewis Brown on the bench the Kangaroos only had one man to shut down.
Jesse Bromwich is a man of action, not words, and while there were some strong charges early from arguably the game's best prop forward the weight of the captaincy looks to be taking its toll. After another Kangaroos try he looked lost for answers and when interviewed at half-time with his team down 24-0 appeared as though a comeback was the furthest from his mind.
But outside those two the Kiwis were a group of players who were trying hard but apparently unwilling to take responsibility for the result.
Issac Luke had virtually no influence on the contest, stand-in stand-off Harris was exposed for the back-rower that he is, Adam Blair was abrasive without being particularly effective and Solomone Kata and David Fusitu'a were struck down by costly bouts of stage fright.
The Kiwis are world class when they play with a collective purpose so coach David Kidwell's most important assignment over the next 12 months is to make his players accountable for their performances.
Ruthless Aussies punish Kiwi mistakes
Throughout the tournament the Kangaroos have excelled by squeezing the life out of teams with the clinical nature of their completion rates and execution in attack and it took less than three minutes of the final for that trend to continue.
A swarming Kangaroos defence brought about the first New Zealand mistake after just two minutes and one tackle later the first points of the game were scored through Blake Ferguson.
An attacking raid from the Kiwis went astray when a loose Shaun Johnson flick pass went to ground and when Valentine Holmes swooped to run downfield it put the Kangaroos into motion that led to Dugan's try.
Jordan Rapana's dropped bomb was compounded by a penalty that the Kangaroos converted into two further points and when Jordan Kahu and Fusitu'a allowed Dugan to sneak in between them to ground Johnathan Thurston's kick into the in-goal the lead was 24 points.
As the Kiwis fumbled their way to a 50 per cent completion rate through the first 25 minutes the Kangaroos were at 92 per cent, refusing to take their foot off the throat.
Test football is about discipline and opportunities, and the Kangaroos have made that the cornerstone of their tournament success.
Powerful Kiwis miss the trick
The game-plan should have been simple. With the quick play-the-balls able to be generated off the back of Bromwich, Jason Taumalolo and Blair, New Zealand had to hit the Kangaroos in behind the ruck for three and four tackles every set until Issac Luke and Shaun Johnson had the space they needed to test the Aussie defence.
But whether coach David Kidwell had a different idea or it took 60 minutes for the message to sink in the Kiwis went side to side on the shrunken dimensions of Anfield and were covered comfortably by the Australian defence.
Luke had only nine running metres after 40 minutes which given the forwards at his disposal was a terrible waste of resources.
Ball control obviously limited any New Zealand effectiveness in the first half but if they'd concentrated their efforts in the middle third of the field those passes under pressure would never need to have been thrown.
Unblemished Boyd confirms his custodial class
He had worn the Australian No.1 jersey before 2016 but Darius Boyd has now made it his own to keep, delivering another faultless performance and keeping his undefeated Test record intact.
The Four Nations final represented Boyd's 23rd Test in the green and gold and by laying on the opening two tries of the game went a long way to ensuring he recorded his 23rd international victory in a man-of-the-match display.
His pass selection is arguably without peer among modern fullbacks and was on full display in the opening quarter, a superb cut-out exposing Fusitu'a inside three minutes for Blake Ferguson to score and then playing short or Dugan to score the first of his two tries.
A long ball intended for Ferguson missed the mark midway through the second half but he made up for it shortly thereafter by taking the line on himself and scoring his 16th Test try.
Playing fullback for Queensland for the first time this year took his confidence levels to new highs and he is a man in consummate control of his performance.
This article first appeared on NRL.com