24 Nov 2008

Kiwis victory 'dream come true'

3:33 pm on 24 November 2008

Hundreds of fans welcomed the rugby league world cup champions home from Australia on Sunday, one of the Kiwis players described the victory as a dream come true.

Against the odds, the Kiwis beat the Kangaroos 34-20 in the World Cup final in Brisbane on Saturday night - the first New Zealand side to become world champions.

A crowd of more than 300 people at Auckland International Airport roared as team members, Jerome Ropati, Manu Vatuvei and Evarn Tuimavavae stepped onto home soil.

Members of the crowd performed a haka, and cheered as the trophy, which occupied its own seat on the flight, was lifted into the air.

Players were bombarded with requests for autographs, interviews and photos.

Wing Manu Vatuvei said the shock victory was a dream come true and proved that anything can happen.

He said the team was hungry for the win, and it paid off.


Former international players helped prepare the Kiwis ahead of their historic win.

Try-scorer Jerome Ropati said former Kiwi representatives helped impress on the team the importance of the occasion.

"We've had old boys, ex-Kiwis, come and talk to us about how passionate they were about the jersey, how great it was to charge the Aussies, and we took that into the game."

Ropati said the thrill of winning the match, which fell on his birthday, was almost as memorable as his wedding and the birth of his son.

Kiwis forward Greg Eastwood said strong words from coaches Stephen Kearney and Wayne Bennett at half time gave the team the belief to come back and win the match.

The team was trailing 16-12 at half time, and Eastwood says Kearney and Bennett told them the game would be won in the 15 minutes after half time.

Benji Marshall who won the NRL premiership win West Tigers three years ago said the world cup win was a completely different level.

The influence of coach Wayne Bennett, an Australian, is being hailed as a major factor in the Kiwi's rugby league world cup victory.

A recruiter for the top NRL side the Paramatta Eels, Rod Reddy, says players would have responded to Bennett's coaching skills, as he gives players confidence and spells out that they must work hard in their basics.

Former Kiwis coach Frank Endacott described the match as the greatest Kiwi victory of all time.

Australia says win well deserved

Australian coach Ricky Stuart says New Zealand deserves all the credit after its shock win over the Kangaroos.

The Kiwis were massive underdogs against their old rivals but played brilliantly against the Kangaroos who made some uncharacteristic errors during the final.

New Zealand were 10-0 behind early on and trailed 16-12 at half-time before taking a hold of the final in sensational fashion at Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane on Saturday night.

Lance Hohaia scored two tries while Benji Marshall, Adam Blair, Jerome Ropati and Jeremy Smith all scored one apiece.

The turning point in the match came with 10 minutes to go with the Kiwis holding a two-point lead.

Referee Steve Gunson made a controversial call when he ruled Australian winger Joel Monaghan had taken out Hohaia as he chased through a Benji Marshall grubber. Slater's proximity to the incident provided some doubt as to whether the Kiwi No 1 would have got to the ball first.

Blair's try with four minutes to go put the result out of doubt. Isaac Luke converted three tries and Marshall converted two for the New Zealanders.

Despite a wayward pass from Slater and the penalty try ruling against Monaghan, Australian coach Ricky Stuart says the focus should be on New Zealand.

"Don't make this too much about Australia," the ABC quotes Stuart as saying.

"Show some journalistic ability and promote New Zealand. They were better than us tonight, they won the game, so write it accordingly."

Ricky Stuart said his players are bitterly disappointed with their performances.

New Zealand coach Stephen Kearney said the period after half time was where the game was decided.

"We didn't need to score in those first 15 minutes, but we couldn't let them score," he said.

"After that we dragged them into an arm wrestle and things went our way."