Australia vs. New Zealand talking points: Liam Martin leads the way whilst Nathan Cleary is kept quiet in Rugby League World Cup semi-final

Australia are through to this year’s Rugby League World Cup final, as they continue their quest for a third successive crown.

However, their spot in the decider did not come easily, picking up a narrow 16-14 win over trans-Tasman rivals New Zealand.

Whilst some Kangaroos players stood up, there is still plenty to work on before the final next week at Old Trafford.

The Sporting News takes a look at the major talking points from a thrilling semi-final.

MORE: Michael Maguire emotional as New Zealand fall short against Australia

Liam Martin brings much-needed physicality

Whilst his impact is not always reflected in statistics, Liam Martin’s influence was clear to see against New Zealand.

It was not the Kangaroos’ best performance to date, but Martin’s consistency and physicality were key.

Notably, the Penrith Panthers edge forward stepped up in the second half as he helped Australia grind out a narrow result.

He might not be flashy, nor does he feature often in highlight packages, but his sheer effort is what sets him apart.

Deservedly, he was named Player of the Match.

Josh Addo-Carr just keeps scoring

Josh Addo-Carr’s searing form continued, as he notched his 12th try of the tournament at Elland Road.

With Australia beginning the match in an underwhelming fashion, he used his signature pace to bring the Kangaroos back into the encounter.

The speedy winger now needs just one more try to surpass Valentine Holmes’ record for the most four-pointers at a single World Cup.

Ben Hunt also deserves plenty (if not the majority) of credit for his role in the try, with his pinpoint bomb falling beautifully into the hands of Addo-Carr.

Peta Hiku denied tries on two separate occasions

Two video referee calls – one clear-cut, one dubious – saw New Zealand have two tries chalked off in the second half, in what turned out to be crucial decisions.

Kiwi centre Peta Hiku was denied tries in both instances.

Early in the second period, a contentious ruling saw Jordan Rapana deemed offside from a Jahrome Hughes kick.

Then, in a more straightforward decision, Hiku was found to be out of touch in what was nearly a spectacular sideline try.

Maguire did not contest any of the calls but was visibly emotional post-match.

“It’s done now. We can’t look back. The result’s the result”, Maguire said.

The former Wests Tigers coach also highlighted how the game was decided by the narrowest margins. 

“[The match] could have gone our way, but unfortunately, [it was] just the bounce of the ball with [Hiku] right in that corner there,” he said.

“So the gap between the teams, I believe, has closed immensely. We’ve just got to keep pushing forward now and close it even more.”

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Should DCE be selected over Cleary in the final?

It is fair to say that Australia’s performance against New Zealand was not at the level we have seen so far in this tournament.

The most obvious reason is that they were playing against high-quality opposition.

However, there was also a notable lack of control in the halves.

Nathan Cleary is arguably the best player in the game when he is at his peak, but he was fairly quiet at Elland Road. 

A botched kick late in the match opened the door for a New Zealand comeback, in what was a lacklustre display from the star halfback.

This begs the question: would Daly Cherry-Evans be a better option for the final?

The Manly Sea Eagles veteran knows how to control big games, and could be a significant asset for the Kangaroos at Old Trafford.

Alternatively, could dropping someone as talented as Cleary backfire?

That will be for Mal Meninga to decide next week.

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