Australia survive late rally from Kiwis
Australia survived a dramatic late rally from New Zealand to enhance their credentials as Four Nations favourites with a 14-8 victory at Coventry's Ricoh Arena.
Playing less than an hour after England had delivered an uninspiring display when beating Scotland in the first game of a double-header, the Kangaroos wasted little time in displaying the quality that had largely been lacking from the tournament hosts.
Tries from the outstanding Blake Ferguson and Johnathan Thurston put Australia 10 points up inside 15 minutes against a Kiwis side they have now beaten on three occasions in 2016.
The lead was up to 10 once more as the final whistle approached, but Shaun Johnson produced a moment of magic to help set up Jordan Rapana for a late four-pointer and the half back was then held up over the try-line with seconds remaining.
Australia were nevertheless good value for their win and are likely to meet New Zealand again in the final at Anfield, unless England spring a shock by beating the Kangaroos at London's Olympic Stadium next Sunday.
It was one-way traffic for much of the opening period as Mal Meninga's side swiftly seized control and threatened to put the game beyond their opponents before half-time.
Ferguson cut in off the right flank for the first try, after a cut-out pass from Michael Morgan.
Those two players then combined superbly to set up Australia's second score, Morgan's reverse ball sending Ferguson through a gap before the powerful winger passed inside for Thurston to touch down. The superstar scrum-half duly added the extras and Australia were in command.
New Zealand offered little as an attacking force prior to the interval, although the Kangaroos were grateful to Greg Inglis when he made a superb ankle tap to prevent Rapana from racing clear for a 90-metre intercept score.
Australia almost added a third try, but Justin O'Neill was adjudged to have come up just short at the other end, following a perfectly weighted Thurston pass.
And Solomone Kata provided a much-needed lift for the Kiwis nine minutes into the second period, scooting down the blindside from dummy half for a try confirmed by the video referee.
Johnson missed the touchline conversion and Australia soon reclaimed the initiative, two close-range penalties from Thurston strengthening their position.
Yet New Zealand finished with a flourish and Johnson came agonisingly close to giving himself a kick to tie the match, after he had collected his own chip over the top to start a delightful move that led to Rapana's 77th-minute score.