Australia edges New Zealand to grab final spot

Australia were made to fight for their spot in the Rugby League World Cup final, defeating New Zealand 16-14 in a Test match Kangaroos coach Mal Meninga described as one of the greatest he had been a part of.

The Kangaroos will play the winners of the other semi-final between England and Samoa at Old Trafford next week.

And at one stage on Friday night it appeared they might not get there, their nine-year reign as world champions threatening to desert them right until the last minute of a rollercoaster of a game.

In front of 28,113 fans at Elland Road in Leeds, the Australians were given a scare as they found themselves behind at halftime in a Test match for the first time since 2015.

It was the first time Meninga's side had been challenged at this tournament and a barge-over try to Cameron Murray was what got them over the line.

"We said at halftime we couldn't play victim to anything, we were behind but we just kept on believing," Meninga said.

"I was pleased with the effort and the commitment - all the characteristics you want in your footy team.

"You just have to keep on hanging in there. It was one of the best Test matches I've been involved with."

Those attributes were personified by Murray.

He kicked off an all-in melee after Isaiah Papali'i had screamed in the face of Nathan Cleary following an error and then wrapped up victory with a basic first-tackle hit-up in the 52nd minute.

That match-winning try, according to Kiwis coach Michael Maguire, highlighted the difference between his players and the Australians.

"We only get one or two games like this a year," Maguire said.

"The Australian team is playing at that higher intensity in Origin.

"If we get more games like that at this level they're going to continue to improve."

Murray's one-up carry past the tiring bodies of Brandon Smith and Asofa-Solomona didn't reflect New Zealand's intensity.

James Fisher-Harris and Moses Leota ran it back into the heart of the Australian defence without a drop of self-preservation as the Kiwis left the Kangaroos in the starting blocks.

Dylan Brown kicked crossfield to Joey Manu in the 10th minute with Jahrome Hughes on hand to receive a tap back from the fullback to score.

Against the run of play, Australia hit back.

Hooker Ben Hunt hoisted a kick beyond the reaches of Kiwis winger Jordan Rapana into the clutches of Josh Addo-Carr.

The Canterbury winger did the rest, equalling Valentine Holmes' 2017 record of 12 tries in a tournament.

Rapana added a penalty goal but New Zealand soon found themselves pinned back by another piece of Australian magic when Jack Wighton offloaded for Holmes to go in out wide.

The Kiwis didn't wilt under the pressure and after chancing their arm down the left they were in through Brown in the 36th minute, Rapana converting to make it 14-10.

Early into the second half Kiwis centre Peta Hiku had a try chalked off for an offside and Australia breathed a sigh of relief.

They were on the ropes and Murray hauled them back into the fight.

He jolted Papali'i and then crashed over to put Australia ahead once again.

What followed was an intense final half an hour.

Hiku looked to have scored the winner with eight minutes left only for the video referee to adjudicate that he had grounded it on the dead-ball line.