An Angus Crichton sinbinning early in the second half threatened to derail an otherwise dominant display which has seen the Kangaroos clinch their 12th Rugby League World Cup title in a 30-10 win over Samoa.
Having taken a 14-0 lead into the sheds, the boys in blue were given a chance to blow the game open when Crichton was sent to the sinbin after a stray forearm in a dead ball situation saw Chanel Harris-Tavita knocked out early in the second half.
Teammate Val Holmes had just knocked on when Crichton picked up the loose ball. Playing the whistle, Harris-Tavita ran through to pressure the front rower, who lifted his forearm and hit the Samoan star square on the jaw.
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Harris-Tavita was down for the count, and replays showed Crichton was possibly lucky not to be sent off by referee Ashley Klein.
Despite having the advantage, Samoa were unable to break through the Kangaroos defence, and in fact it was the Aussies who scored again through Cameron Murray.
After the game, skipper James Tedesco said his teammates had left their best performance of the World Cup until last.
“We came over here six, seven weeks ago, this group of blokes and we’ve formed such a close bond. It’s so special representing our country and putting this jersey, so it’s a really proud moment,” he said.
Angus Crichton binned for stray forearm
“It’s killed us the last three years with COVID not being able to play for our country … we just wanted to work hard for each other and we showed that tonight.
“We have a team full of superstars. We knew we had the individual brilliance, it was just about bonding as a team.
“We got better and better each game, and that was probably our best performance.”
Coach Mal Meninga echoes those sentiments, and said the team’s second half performance while Crichton was in the bin was “the mark of a great footy team”.
“The first half was exceptional for us. I thought we did everything we need to do, and in the second half we scrambled well defensively,” he said.
“A man down, and we scored some points while that happened – that’s the mark of a great footy team. They’re committed to each other and I’m really happy for the boys.”
He said Tedesco’s presence in the camp was “exceptional”.
“His talks through the week and the way he’s trained was exceptional. Those initial conversations were about … humility and respect, being respectful of the jersey. They responded really well and I just felt they brought their best game tonight.
“They had to work really hard. It’s a tough, tough tournament, and as the tournament goes on, fatigue starts to kick in.
“They’ve been rewarded for their efforts tonight, and it’s been a really good way to finish out the season.”
Samoa coach Matt Parish said his side “just ran out of troops in the end”.
“Disappointed with the result but couldn’t be prouder of the effort, of their commitment to the cause. They played against a champion team tonight. They were just too good,” he said.
“We couldn’t quite get close enough to put pressure on them throughout the game, but I’m really proud of this group. It’s been a fantastic journey.”
Parish took a moment to thank not only Samoans back home, but also to the thousands of neutral fans in the stands clearly supporting the underdogs.
“We’re so humbled and proud to be part of this Samoan team. To have so much support around the world has been incredible … I’m so touched to be part of this team.”
In front of 67,000 fans at Old Trafford, the Kangaroos endured a slow start – completing just one of their first five sets, before finally breaking through the Samoan defence through Latrell Mitchell.
They had their second just minutes later when Josh Addo-Carr broke through the line before offloading to skipper James Tedesco.
Liam Martin got himself a try on the half-hour mark when he bustled over with two Samoans on his back.
After the break, Samoa came out looking to attack, and they came at the Kangaroos even harder after Crichton was binned.
Taylan May looked to have scored in the corner but the final offload from Joseph Suaali’i was called forward.
Moments later Murray broke through and extended the Kangaroos’ lead.
On the hour mark, Brian To’o got Samoa on the board, and a Stephen Crichton intercept in the 70th minute kept them in the game.
But it was Latrell Mitchell who put the icing on the Kangaroos cake, scoring on full time to seal a the win.
The Kangaroos win ensured an Australian double, after the Jillaroos earlier thrashed New Zealand 54-4.
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Rugby League World Cup 2022 team of the tournament: Kangaroos outdone by final foe Samoa