Rugby League World Cup: NZ Kiwis denied great upset, as Kangaroos rally in semi-final classic at Leeds

NZ Kiwis have been denied a great Rugby League World Cup upset, as the Kangaroos rallied to claim the honours in their semi-final clash at Leeds.

New Zealand led at the break, but were held scoreless in the second-half, with a Cameron Murray try proving the difference in Australia's 16-14 victory at Elland Road.

In a test match that was expected to be dominated by Australia, the Kiwis applied all the early pressure in the opening 10 minutes.

Kangaroos fullback James Tedesco was called into action on several occasions to defuse Jahrome Hughes' kicks behind the defence.

James Fisher-Harris.
James Fisher-Harris. Photo credit: Getty Images

Hughes finally penetrated the Australian defence, after a trademark barnstorming run from Nelson Asofa-Solomona.

The Kiwis prop committed several defenders, before Dylan Brown's crossfield kick was gathered in by centre Joseph Manu, who put Hughes over for the opening try, but the reigning champions showed their class to respond with a try against the run of play.

Ben Hunt put up a crossfield bomb that travelled more than 40 metres to a tracking Josh Addo-Carr, living up to his nickname of the 'Fox'.

Addo-Carr followed the ball, as it went over the top of Jordan Rapana's head and fell gratefully into the winger's hands for the try in the corner.

New Zealand didn't need to wait long to retake the lead, with Rapana nailing the penalty, after Cameron Munster was penalised for offside.

Australia took the lead for the first time, with Jack Wighton doing just enough to shrug off Manu and free his arms up off the floor to send Valentine Holmes over for the try.

In a back-and-forth first half, the Kiwis had the final say, scoring the go-ahead try through Brown to take a 14-10 lead into the break.

Asofa-Solomona again proved a handful for the Australian defence, bouncing off a couple of would-be-tacklers, before Ronaldo Mulitalo was freed down the left wing.

Mulitalo showed great composure to draw in the last defender and find Brown on the inside to give the Kiwis momentum into the second half.

Australia's error count continued to haunt them after the break, with an incredible six to NZ's only one before the 45th minute.

Kiwis centre Peta Hiku looked to be in for another try, but Rapana was adjudged offside in the lead-up from a Hughes kick.

Tension then started to boil over, after Isaiah Papali'i having a few words for Nathan Cleary after his loose carry and Cameron Murray taking exception, prompting an all-in shoving match between both teams.

The game-defining moment came in the 52nd minute, after Australia were awarded a penalty right in front of the goalposts.

Kiwis hooker Brandon Smith made a crucial tackle to deny Isaah Yeo, but NZ were pinged right after.

The Kiwis were caught napping, as Murray received the quick tap and charged at the tryline, with Asofa-Solomona and Smith unable to stop him from dotting down.

Fatigue had well and truly set in for the Kiwis, as their error count climbed rapidly, with Manu and Rapana guilty of loose carries.

They had one final chance to steal the game, but Hiku was denied again, after he was ruled to jump from outside the field of play while chasing a Hughes kick.

Addo-Carr looked to have misjudged the grubber, but did enough to shepherd Hiku, who couldn't stay in the field of play.

Australia will now await the winners of the other semi between England and Samoa to find out who they will need to beat to clinch back-to-back titles.

New Zealand 14 (Hughes & Brown tries; Rapana 2 conversions & penalty) Australia 16 (Addo-Carr, Holmes & Murray tries; Cleary 2 conversions)

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