LISTEN TO JARED WAEREA-HARGREAVES TALK WITH MARTIN DEVLIN ABOVE
Test football is back. The Kiwis are back. And all those fans who stayed away will be feeling pretty silly. What a performance, against all expectation.
The 26-24 scoreline doesn't do justice to the Kiwis' dominance, in what feels like a pivotal day for New Zealand league.
It was the first victory over the Kangaroos since 2015, and at times had echoes of that famous performance in Brisbane.
Who saw this coming? Wow. New captain Dallin Watene Zelezniak was simply outstanding, playing like a man possessed from his first touch. Jesse Bromwich was superb in his redemption test, and Jared Waerea-Hargreaves continued his form from the grand final.
And what about the young guns? Brandon Smith grabbed a try on debut – and could have had another - while Joseph Manu was another stand out.
After a shaky start, the Kiwis grabbed the initiative and never really let it go, as the young Kangaroos side struggled to gain any momentum. But you can never count out the Australians, and their courageous comeback at the death almost broke a million hearts.
But the Kiwis did it, and now have a platform for the Michael Maguire era.
But whatever the Kiwis did in their pre-match routine, they'll want to revisit it before the next test. After a rousing haka, the home side were caught napping badly in the second minute. The Kangaroos engineered a gaping overlap and Latrell Mitchell sent Valentine Holmes away to score.
It didn't look good, and it looked even worse in the next few phases of play, when Mitchell twice got clear, and the Kiwis only avoided further damage on the scoreboard thanks to a knock on by a support runner, then later a forward pass.
The omens weren't great, but then the Kiwis found their verve. A Shaun Johnson chip forced a repeat set, then a Watene-Zelezniak charge got his teammates – and the crowd - going.
What followed next was a sustained period of dominance, as the Kiwis were camped in the Australian half.
The Kiwis were almost faultless in terms of completions; they forced dropouts (three in the first half alone), won penalties and built pressure. On the rare occasions the Australians got possession, they inevitably made mistakes. The Kangaroos were missing their legion of retired on field generals – headed by Cameron Smith – and lacked the composure that those players brought.
But their defence was remarkable, at one stage defending five consecutive sets. The Kiws finally opened their account through Ken Maumalo in the 26th minute, after the Warriors winger had gone close five minutes earlier. A Martin Taupau offload created the overlap, as well as some tunnel ball from Watene-Zelezniak.
By now the crowd were in full voice, with their "Kiwis, Kiwis" chant, and increased when Manu fended off clubmate Latrell Mitchell to wrestle his way over in the 34th minute. The half turned with a controversial video referee decision, which found a Manu knock on to deny a spectacular Watene-Zelezniak try. A minute later the Kangaroos exploited defensive hesitiation down the blindside, and the long range try by Dane Gagai felt like a dagger to the heart.
The second half was more cut and thrust, and James Tedesco was only denied by a magnificent Watene-Zelezniak tackle, before Smith's determined effort took the Kiwis into the lead.
There was more to come, as Johnson footwork created space for Esan Masters to dive over in the 61st minute. That lit the fire for the Kiwis, with some Manu magic setting up a somersaulting Jordan Rapana six minutes later.
That should have sealed the result, but late tries to Felise Kaufusi and James Tedesco set up a grandstand finish.
Kiwis 26 (K Maumalo, J Manu, B Smith, E Marsters, J Rapana tries, S Johnson 3 goals)
Kangaroos 24 (V Holmes, D Gagai, F Kaufusi, J Tedesco tries; V Holmes 4 goals)