In the opening two rounds the 2014 Four Nations has shown off international rugby league at its best with four outstanding contests.
The opening weekend at Suncorp Stadium produced two memorable matches, England just staying clear of Toa Samoa for a 32-26 win while the Kiwis stunned the Kangaroos 30-12.
In week two the brave Samoans took the Kiwis right to the wire before the New Zealanders showed their mettle by grabbing a late 14-12 victory in Whangarei.
It was an illustration of the Kiwis’ development that they could hang in on a tough day, create pressure and earn an all-important win.
In doing so they moved to four points on the table and also retained the Sir Peter Leitch QSM Challenge Trophy which is at stake when the Kiwis face a Pacific nation. It said much for the Northland region, too, that almost 17,000 fans packed Toll Stadium for what was an exceptional occasion all round.
A day later the Kangaroos handed England a bitter defeat in Melbourne. They didn't leave it anywhere near as late as the Kiwis did but they had to withstand an extra-late scare before holding on for a 16-12 victory.
Looking to secure a spot in the final – and to eliminate Australia – England impressed in the first half in building a 12-4 lead, which really ought to have been 18-4 after a big Sam Tomkins break in the last few minutes of the spell.
The Kangaroos had it all to do but came back at England with two tries within six minutes midway through the second half to take a lead they then protected.
It seemed on Saturday night that the Kiwis were definitely in the November 15 final in Wellington. That may still prove to be the case but there are all sorts of permutations ahead in this weekend’s third round of matches.
As it stands the Kiwis are on four points with a points for and against differential of plus 20 while England, their opponent in Dunedin on Saturday night, is on two points and a differential of plus two. Australia is also on two points with a differential of minus 14 and Samoa is on zero with a differential of minus eight. It means all four teams have some sort of chance of reaching the final.
FOUR NATIONS | TOLL STADIUM, WHANGAREI
NEW ZEALAND v TOA SAMOA
New Zealand 14 (Kieran Foran, Jason Nightingale, Shaun Kenny-Dowall tries; Shaun Johnson conversion).
Toa Samoa 12 (Tautau Moga, Daniel Vidot, Joey Leilua tries).
Halftime: 8-6 Samoa.
Referee: Henry Perenara (New Zealand).
New Zealand | 1 Peta Hiku; 2 Jason Nightingale, 3 Shaun Kenny-Dowall, 4 Dean Whare, 5 Manu Vatuvei; 6 Kieran Foran, 7 Shaun Johnson; 8 Jesse Bromwich, 9 Issac Luke, 10 Adam Blair; 11 Simon Mannering (c), 12 Kevin Proctor; 13 Jason Taumalolo. Interchange: 14 Lewis Brown, 15 Suaia Matagi, 16 Martin Taupau, 17 Tohu Harris. Coach: Stephen Kearney.
Toa Samoa | 1 Tim Simona; 20 Tautau Moga, 3 Tim Lafai, 4 Joey Leilua, 5 Daniel Vidot; 6 Ben Roberts, 7 Kyle Stanley; 8 Isaac Liu, 16 Sauaso Sue, 10 David Fa’alogo (c); 11 Frank Pritchard, 12 Leeson Ah Mau; 13 Josh McGuire. Interchange: 9 Pita Godinet, 14 Dunamis Lui, 17 Mose Masoe, 18 Dominique Peyroux. Coach: Matt Parish.
Completed sets | New Zealand 26/40 (65%), Toa Samoa 29/36 (81%).
Total runs and metres gained | New Zealand 187/1696, Toa Samoa 132/1437.
Penalties conceded | New Zealand 7, Toa Samoa 10.
Line breaks | New Zealand 6, Toa Samoa 2.
Tackles Made | New Zealand 299, Toa Samoa 328.
Tackles missed | New Zealand 29, Toa Samoa 29.
Off loads | New Zealand 15, Toa Samoa 6.
Errors | New Zealand 14, Toa Samoa 10.
Most runs | New Zealand: Jesse Bromwich 22, Simon Mannering 17, Manu Vatuvei 16, Jason Taumalolo 15, Jason Nightingale 14, Peta Hiku 13, Shaun Kenny-Dowall 12, Tohu Harris 11. Toa Samoa: David Fa’alogo 13, Tautau Moga 11, Daniel Vidot 11, Tim Lafai 11, Josh McGuire 11, Joey Leilua 10.
Most metres | New Zealand: Jesse Bromwich 220, Manu Vatuvei 195, Jason Taumalolo 173, Jason Nightingale 149, Simon Mannering 137, Tohu Harris 111. Toa Samoa: Tautau Moga 169, Joey Leilua 151, Daniel Vidot 129, Josh McGuire 122, Tim Simona 115.
Most tackles | New Zealand: Kevin Proctor 34, Simon Mannering 32, Adam Blair 30, Jesse Bromwich 30, Tohu Harris 25, Tohu Harris 25. Toa Samoa: Josh McGuire 47, Pita Godinet 33, Isaac Liu 30, David Fa’alogo 29, Leeson Ah Mau 28, Kyle Stanley 25.
Most tackle breaks | New Zealand: Manu Vatuvei 9, Kieran Foran 4, Jesse Bromwich 4. Toa Samoa: Joey Leilua 11, Daniel Vidot 3, Ben Roberts 3.
Most off loads | New Zealand: Jesse Bromwich 4, Jason Taumalolo 2, Shaun Johnson 2. Toa Samoa: Isaac Liu 2.
FOUR NATIONS | AAMI PARK, MELBOURNE
AUSTRALIA v ENGLAND
Australia 16 (Michael Jennings, Ben Hunt, Greg Inglis tries; Cameron Smith 2 conversions).
England 12 (Kallum Watkins, Ryan Hall tries; Gareth Widdop 2 conversions).
Halftime: 12-4 England.
Referee: Gerard Sutton (Australia).
Australia | 1 Greg Inglis; 2 Josh Mansour, 3 Michael Jennings, 4 Dylan Walker, 5 Sione Mata’utia; 6 Daly Cherry-Evans, 7 Cooper Cronk; 8 Aaron Woods, 9 Cameron Smith (c), 10 Sam Thaiday; 11 Beau Scott, 12 Greg Bird; 13 Corey Parker. Interchange: 14 Robbie Farah, 18 Ben Hunt, 19 David Klemmer, 20 Josh Papalii. Coach: Tim Sheens.
England | 1 Sam Tomkins; 2 Josh Charnley, 3 Kallum Watkins, 18 Dan Sarginson, 5 Ryan Hall; 6 Gareth Widdop, 7 Matty Smith; 8 George Burgess, 9 Josh Hodgson, 10 James Graham; 11 Liam Farrell, 12 Joel Tomkins; 19 Sean O’Loughlin (c). Interchange: 14 Daryl Clark, 15 Brett Ferres, 16 Tom Burgess, 17 Chris Hill. Coach: Steve McNamara.