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Australia regains Rugby League WC by beating New Zealand

The Canadian Press

11/30/2013 12:57:41 PM

MANCHESTER, England -- Australia reclaimed the Rugby League World Cup from New Zealand in devastating style on Saturday, scoring five tries to cruise to a 34-2 victory in the most one-sided final in the competition's 59-year history.

Billy Slater and Brett Morris both crossed twice and Cooper Cronk added the other try as the Kangaroos produced a near-flawless performance at Old Trafford to win the trophy for the 10th time in 14 editions.

New Zealand forward Sonny Bill Williams was bidding to become the first player to win World Cups in both rugby codes but his subdued performance was summed up when his pass was intercepted in the lead-up to Australia's final try, a length-of-the-field score finished off by Morris.

The Australians finished without having conceded a try since their opening-day win over England five weeks ago. In their five matches since then, they shipped only four points in five matches, scoring 244.

For Australia's 30-year-olds Greg Inglis, Cameron Smith and Johnathan Thurston, who kicked all seven of his goals, it completes the resumes of three of the modern-day rugby league greats. And it goes a long way to making up for the 2008 final, when New Zealand stunned its fierce rival in Brisbane to claim the sport's biggest prize for the first time.

This was the heaviest victory in a final, eclipsing Australia's 40-12 victory over the Kiwis in the same stadium in 2000.

Australia hadn't been beaten in three years heading into the match but, crucially, New Zealand had defeated its great rival in three of the last four major finals they had met -- in that 2008 World Cup and in the Four Nations in '05 and '10.

It quickly became apparent, though, that there would not be another upset here in a match played in front of 74,468 -- a record crowd for an international.

Australia was sharper around the play-the-ball, made big yardage through the forwards and made the most of New Zealand winger Roger Tuisava-Sheck's injury withdrawal in only the seventh minute to make a raft of incisive attacks down its left channel. Two of their tries came down that flank.

A halftime scoreline of 16-2 didn't flatter the Kangaroos -- and their opponents walked off hands on hips, a punishing first 40 adding to the weariness after that epic semifinal victory over England last weekend.

Thurston and Shaun Johnson kicked goals in the opening 16 minutes before Australia's attack started making serious inroads and Thurston's perfectly judged kick was collected by the leaping Slater -- soaring way above Kieran Foran -- for the opening try in the 19th.

Slater was passed fit only on Thursday after making a quicker-than-expected recovery from a knee injury and his try double -- and Australia's victory -- will be particularly sweet for the fullback, whose error gifted Benji Marshall a crucial try in the 2008 final.

Isaac Luke somehow held up Cronk over the line to deny the standoff a try in the 25th, but Cronk had the last laugh five minutes later when he collected Darius Boyd's kick forward following another raid down the left to force himself over the line. Luke's slip, just as Cronk gathered the ball, proved decisive.

Thurston converted again -- in the process surpassing countryman Mick Cronin to become the record international point-scorer -- and his penalty in the 36th gave the Australians a 14-point lead at the break.

New Zealand really needed to score next to make a game of it but it took less than a minute after the break for Slater to virtually clinch the trophy.

Again the Kiwis were exposed on their right, as Thurston set free Darius Boyd, who passed inside for Slater to race over.

Morris was next to cross after finishing a great move by diving to ground Jarryd Hayne's kick forward before crashing into the advertising hoardings behind the short in-goal area.

The same duo combined for the crowning try in the 72nd, Hayne intercepting Williams' hopeful miss-pass and sprinting 60 metres before offloading to Morris, who did the rest.