Australia restored the world order with a hugely-impressive 34-8 victory over New Zealand in a disappointingly one-sided Ladbrokes Four Nations final at Anfield.
The Kangaroos demonstrated a ruthless streak to establish an unassailable 24-0 lead at half-time and easily held off a brief revival from the Kiwis to present coach Mal Meninga with a sixth win from his first six matches in charge.
There were shades of Australia’s 34-2 rout of New Zealand in the World Cup final at Old Trafford two years ago as Meninga’s men regained their hold on the Four Nations trophy and with it the tag of world number one which means so much to their pride.
The six-try victory enabled Australia’s big three of Cameron Smith, Johnathan Thurston and Cooper Cronk to mark their final appearances on English soil in familiar fashion, although they were upstaged by full-back Darius Boyd, who set up the first two tries and scored one himself to maintain his remarkable record of never being on the losing side for the Kangaroos.
New Zealand, who limped into the final after being held to an 18-18 draw by minnows Scotland, lacked a cutting edge with forward Tohu Harris unable to get to grips with the stand-off role in the absence of an injured Thomas Leuluai, but it was a string of basic errors that contributed to a one-sided contest that created something of an anti-climax for a healthy crowd of 40,042.
An early handling error by the Kiwis set the tone for the match as Boyd’s cut-out pass got winger Blake Ferguson over for the first try straight from a scrum after only two minutes.
Thurston’s touchline conversion crept over the crossbar to make it 6-0 but New Zealand struck back with their best spell of the match to put the Kangaroos defence under intense pressure and they ought to have made more of a clean break by winger Jordan Rapana.
When Shaun Johnson, upon whose shoulders so much rested for the Kiwis, took the wrong option by holding onto the ball for too long, Australia winger Valentine Holmes quickly turned defence into attack, creating the position for Boyd to get Dugan through a gap for the first of his two tries.
Instead of potentially being level, New Zealand suddenly found themselves trailing 10-0 and it steadily got worse for David Kidwell’s men.
Another handling error, this time from the experienced hooker Issac Luke, was punished by his opposite number Smith, who put loose forward Trent Merrin over for the simplest of tries midway through the first half.
Thurston kept the scoreboard ticking over with a couple of penalties as the Kiwis struggled to get out of their own half half and Dugan scored a fourth try eight minutes before the break, winning the race to Thurston’s delicate grubber kick to the line.
Leading 24-0 after completing all but one of their 21 sets in the first half, Australia were in no mood to let their shell-shocked opponents back in the match in the second half.
Boyd forced his way over for a try four minutes into the second half and Holmes had one disallowed before the partisan crowd finally had something tangible to cheer on 55 minutes, with second rower Kevin Proctor passing out of the tackle for full-back Jordan Kahu to score a consolation try for New Zealand.
Kahu went over again on 68 minutes but was again wide with the conversion attempt and Australia had the final say, with second rower Boyd Cordner forcing his way over for his side’s sixth try seven minutes from the end and Thurston wrapping up the scoring with his fifth goal.