From halfway around the world, the eyes of Australian and Kiwi rugby league fans will turn to Elland Road in Leeds on Saturday morning (AEDT) for a World Cup semi-final nine years in the making.
That’s how long it has been since the Trans-Tasman rivals have squared off at the Cup, with the Kangaroos storming to a 34-2 victory in the 2013 Final at another mecca of English sport, Old Trafford.
With Melbourne’s ‘Big Three’ Cameron Smith, Billy Slater and Cooper Cronk showing the way, Australia produced their second biggest win over New Zealand at a World Cup, the 32-point margin eclipsed only by the 36-point gap in 1970 when the Kangaroos won 47-11 at Wigan.
In 15 World Cup clashes, it’s the green and gold holding a staggering 14-1 advantage, with an average winning margin of a tick under 20 points.
From Paris to Auckland, Marseilles to Manchester, the Land Down Under has had its way with the Land of the Long White Cloud… apart from November 22, 2008 when the brilliance of Benji Marshall sparked a stunning upset in Brisbane.
That emotion-charged World Cup final in ’08 holds a special place in Kiwi folklore, a triumph for the ages as they stormed back from 16-12 down at half-time to grab the Paul Barriere Trophy for the first time.
Five years later the Kangaroos took their revenge in Manchester, just 44 miles down the motorway from the sight of this weekend’s showdown, where a spot in the tournament’s showpiece game goes on the line.
Ahead of the semi-final in Leeds, NRL.com takes a look back at five classic World Cup encounters between Australia and New Zealand.
Best of Enemies
2008 World Cup Final at Brisbane (NZ 34, Australia 20)
"Nothing can compare with that. It was a fantastic campaign to be involved in and it was a huge honour to be able to lead the first New Zealand team to win the World Cup.”
And with that, Kiwis legend Nathan Cayless summed up what it meant to him and his country to upset Australia in the 2008 World Cup final at Suncorp Stadium.
That emotion-charged Test would turn out to be 39th and last of Cayless’ career, the heart and soul enforcer announcing his international retirement a few short months later – probably just after the celebrations had ended.
New Zealand had never beaten Australia in a single tournament fixture, let alone a final, but with 50,559 in the house and millions more watching on television, the Kiwis produced an unbelievable comeback from 10-0 down in the first 20 minutes to break their drought in style.
With the game in the balance midway through the second half, 23-year-old Benji Marshall made Kangaroos fullback Billy Slater pay for a loose pass near his own line, gliding onto the loose ball and touching it down for a 22-16 lead.
Greg Inglis scored soon after to pull it back to 22-20 before a penalty try to Lance Hohai which Marshall converted in the 70th minute gave the Kiwis an eight-point advantage and the Cup was theirs, before a late Adam Blair try iced the cake.
Match Highlights: Australia v New Zealand, RLWC 2008 Final
1995 World Cup semi-final at Huddersfield (Australia 30, NZ 20)
As the only nation not aligned to Super League, Bob Fulton’s Australians were under intense pressure from the outset of the 1995 World Cup and their run almost ended in a tense semi-final against Matthew Ridge’s Kiwis.
Australia skipped to a 14-4 lead at the break courtesy of tries to Tim Brasher, Mark Coyne and Steve Menzies, before New Zealand came charging back to level the scores at 20-20 when Kevin Iro crossed with three minutes to play.
Kangaroos v Kiwis, RLWC Semi Final, 1995
Ridge missed the conversion that could have taken the Kiwis to Wembley and the game entered extra-time, the Kangaroos scoring through Terry Hill and Brad Fittler to progress a seventh consecutive World Cup final.
The master motivator Fulton’s pre-match rev-up highlighted all the unsavoury things the Super League forces in Britain had supposedly done to his team, ensuring his men were ready to run through brick walls by the time they strode onto the hallowed Wembley turf.
The Kangaroos got home 16-8 with Andrew Johns named player of the match and the Kiwis left to ponder what might have been after coming so close in the semi-final.
1988 World Cup Final at Eden Park, Auckland (Australia 25, NZ 12)
Instead of being run as a tournament at one venue, the World Cup had been run over four years, with the third Test of every series counting as a World Cup match, and two points awarded for a win.
The final was played at Eden Park and had whipped up unprecedented interest in New Zealand, after the Kiwis qualified with a win over Great Britain in the third Test in July.
In the green and gold corner, led by the indomitable Wally Lewis, we had such luminaries as Garry Jack, Michael O’Connor, Allan Langer, Benny Elias, Steve Roach and Gavin Miller.
Mark Graham inducted into the Hall of Fame
Across the Eden Park tunnel in the black corner were Dean Bell, Kevin and Tony Iro, Gary Freeman, Mark Graham and Kurt Sorensen.
Appearing overawed by the occasion in front of 46,000 passionate fans, the Kiwis barely landed a punch, with Langer grabbing a double and Miller and Dale Shearer also scoring as Australia racing to a 25-0 lead soon after half-time.
Even the loss of Lewis with a broken arm couldn’t slow the Aussie juggernaut as they secured the Cup yet again.
2000 World Cup Final at Manchester (Australia 40, NZ 12)
After racking up a 310 points and conceding just 46 on their march to the decider, Brad Fittler’s Kangaroos were brimming with confidence as they squared off against a Kiwis outfit which had also shown a penchant for points with 311 to their name and only 38 against.
A high-scoring final seemed all but assured with the likes of Darren Lockyer, Matt Gidley, Wendell Sailor, Andrew Johns and Brett Kimmorley running hot and Stacey Jones, Henry Paul, Nigel Vagana and Ruben Wiki ready to return serve.
After a tight first half it was the Kangaroos up 6-0 courtesy of a try to Gidley before Nathan Hindmarsh came off the bench to snare his fourth try of the tournament to make it 12-0.
100. Darren Lockyer - Hall of Fame
Powerhouse winger Lesley Vainikolo hit back for New Zealand in the 50th minute before Lockyer and Tonie Carroll traded tries to make it 18-12 with 20 minutes to go at Old Trafford.
An epic finish seemed assured but instead the Australians turned into a landslide with Sailor grabbing two tries in the space of five minutes and Fittler and Trent Barrett crossing late to round a 40-12 win for the Kangaroos, who were crowned world champs for the sixth successive time.
2013 World Cup Final at Manchester (Australia 34, NZ 2)
Johnathan Thurston etched his name in the Kangaroos history books as he landed a perfect seven from seven with the boot to surpass Eels great Mick Cronin as Australia's top pointscorer in Test football.
Thurston went into the Old Trafford decider with 304 points for his country, just five behind 'The Crow' and finished a memorable day on 318 as Cameron Smith's men turned in a defensive masterclass to keep a potent Kiwi side tryless.
Doubles to Billy Slater and Brett Morris were the cornerstone of Australia's win while Matt Scott, James Tamou, Paul Gallen and Sam Thaiday muscled up in the forwards to ensure New Zealand never got a look in.
Kangaroos v Kiwis, RLWC Final, 2013
The monster crowd of 74,468 still stands as a record for Australia in Test matches played overseas and they were treated to some champagne football from a Kangaroos side riding high after conceding just two points in 320 minutes of footy leading in to the final against Fiji, Ireland, USA and Fiji again in the semi.
The only team to trouble Australia during the tournament was England, who they beat 28-20 in the opening game in Cardiff. Kevin Sinfield's men went on to make the semis where they had their hearts broken by a spectacular match-winning try from Kiwi whiz Shaun Johnson in a Wembley epic.
Having dug so deep to make it to the big dance the Kiwis had little left to give as Australia ran away with the crown to avenge their defeat in Brisbane five years earlier.
Match: Australia v New Zealand
Semi Finals -
Venue: Elland Road, Leeds