New Zealand's Brandon Smith has come under fire after a crucial mistake in the defining moment of his side's Rugby League World Cup semi-final against Australia.
The Kangaroos' defence of the World Cup is alive after they withheld a spirited Kiwi side to clinch a come-from-behind 16-14 win in Leeds on Friday night (Saturday AEDT).
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The Kiwis had endured an underwhelming tournament to date, but saved their best for last when they pushed the Kangaroos to the wire in front of 28,113 fans at Elland Road.
Cameron Murray's 52nd-minute try proved the difference and means Australia will now play the winner of Saturday's (Sunday AEDT) other semi-final between England and Samoa next week at Old Trafford.
Murray caught the New Zealand defence napping in the only try of the second half, when he exposed a fatigued Smith, who had just made a succession of tackles before giving away a penalty in front of the posts.
The Kiwi hooker had barely gotten back to his own tryline when the Kangaroos tapped and passed to Murray, who sliced through some non-existent defence from Smith and Nelson Asofa-Solomona.
“The Kiwis are in disbelief,” Andrew Voss said in commentary with Fox League, with his English co-caller adding: “That’s not acceptable at this level. They’d be really unhappy with that one”.
A clearly gassed Smith took himself off the field moments later, but not before copping a brutal reality check from commentators and fans, some of whom described it as "horrendous" defensive effort.
NRL great Cooper Cronk told Fox League: “For a guy that fights over a bone like Smith, if you go back over what he did for that Murray try, I think it’s going to hurt him for a long time.
“He just didn’t get off the line at all, and Brandon Smith for a guy that moves and accelerates in every play, he’s just caught on his heels. He was resting. He had been playing long minutes, and he was tired.
“And he basically just cost them the game a little bit there because Cam Murray just went right through where he should have been standing.”
Fellow Aussie league icon Brian Fletcher added: “I think Brandon Smith, he was pretty distraught and looking back at this I think he got pinged for lying in the ruck before that, I think he will think to himself that was quite disappointing”.
That is horrendous from Brandon Smith #RLWC2021
— $NBA $NRL Picks (@BuckApologist92) November 11, 2022
Brandon Smith may want to lay low on the mocking of other players/journos for the next 8 or 10 years #RLWC2021
— West Sydney Sport Cartel (@WestSydneySport) November 11, 2022
ICYMI the turning point of the #RLWC2021 semi-final… ref happy to play-on on the last with Brandon Smith lying in the ruck… until a patient Joey Manu forced error out of Harry Grant… next play fatigued hectic cheese became Swiss cheese for the chosen one… #AUSvNZ pic.twitter.com/rAal91ZNkD
— Brenton Speed (@BrentonSpeed) November 11, 2022
Brandon Smith roosters big signing just got embarrassed by Murray 😂😂😂😂😂😂😂😂
— Bunnies-Dolphins-Clippers-ManCity (@FunnyCants) November 11, 2022
The difference was not Cam Murray it was a gassed Brandon Smith.
— Tony canalloni (@TonyCanalloni) November 11, 2022
The Kiwis had gotten off to a dream start with Dylan Brown's chip-kick caught by Joey Manu just shy of the try line, before he offloaded it into the hands of Jahrome Hughes for the game's opening try.
Australia were quick to respond when Ben Hunt sent a speculative crossfield kick over Rapana's head and Josh Addo-Carr was able to score his 12th try of the tournament, matching the record set by Australian winger Valentine Holmes in the 2017 World Cup.
Nathan Cleary converted to tie the game at 6-6 before Rapana nudged the Kiwis ahead with a penalty for an offside.
Kangaroos come from behind to book final berth
Holmes hit back for Australia on the half-hour mark, but a lightning-quick run from Ronaldo Mulitalo down the touchline led to Brown going over just before the break to give the Kiwis a 14-10 lead.
It was the first time Australia had conceded from open play in this tournament and meant they went in at the break behind on the scoreboard for the first time since 2015.
New Zealand went close to extending their lead just after the interval when centre Peta Hiku touched down only for video referee Chris Kendall to rule Rapana offside in the lead-up.
Australia got their reward for a period of sustained pressure when referee Ashley Klein penalised the Kiwis for lying in the ruck and Murray crashed over on a one-up hit-up.
Tempers begun to fray. Papali'i screamed in Cleary's face after he spilled the ball and Liam Martin sparked a melee when he forced Asofa-Solomona into a loose carry.
Neither side was able to put the game to bed and New Zealand were given the strongest chance when Rapana went on a cavalier run from the backfield.
Hughes put in a grubber kick for Hiku but the ball just trickled dead along with the Kiwis' hopes of victory.
"They put so much into it. We've all been dedicated to turning up and they wanted to win for their country and they did," Maguire said.
"We were willing to grind, that's the style the players are changing the jersey towards."
The Kangaroos will need the extra day of rest given the battering they got at the hands of the Kiwis in their first trans-Tasman game since 2019.
"New Zealand didn't allow us to do what we wanted to do. There's improvement in us but we had to come up with some special efforts, Kangaroos coach Mal Meninga said.
"It was a grind tonight, we just had to outwork them."
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