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Johnson guides Kiwis to glory
Shaun Johnson showed his class as New Zealand avenged their World Cup final defeat with a thrilling 22-18 victory over Australia to lift the 2014 Four Nations Series title.
The Kiwis, champions in 2005 and 2010, were forced to defend desperately to hold out a late Kangaroos fightback in windy Wellington before they were able to celebrate a third tournament victory with their first set of back-to-back wins over Australia for 60 years.
The final whistle sparked wild scenes of celebration among the 25,183 crowd at the Westpac Stadium which helped set a tournament aggregate record of 144,786 as New Zealand made amends for the humiliation of their 34-2 thrashing at Old Trafford 12 months ago.
Johnson was the star of the show, scoring a solo try and carving out a magnificent score for winger Manu Vatuvei, who added another to put his side into a 22-10 lead on the hour.
However, the Kiwis were hanging on grimly at the end after substitute Ben Hunt scored Australia\'s third try on 75 minutes and they were grateful to see teenage winger Sione Mata\'utia fumble the ball as he went for the match-winning score.
Australia had demonstrated their vulnerability in going down 30-12 in the opening game in Brisbane and, with the Kiwis keeping a tight rein on dangerman Greg Inglis, they were always on the back foot after scoring only six points during a dominant opening quarter.
Kangaroos captain Cameron Smith was influential in his side\'s promising start, with a kick to the wing that almost produced a try for Josh Mansour and a short pass that got Corey Parker over the line without being able to ground the ball.
The visitors duly took the lead when the impressive Michael Jennings pounced on a handling error by Dean Whare to claim his ninth try in as many Tests and Smith\'s goal extended his side\'s lead to 6-0.
It might have been more but for an important ankle tap by Jason Nightingale that brought down a flying Mansour and some crunching defence by the Kiwis turned the game on its head in the second quarter.
A surging run by Shaun Kenny-Dowall pulled the Australian defence out of position, creating the space for Nightingale to score on 23 minutes, and Johnson levelled the scores with a touchline conversion before edging his side in front with a penalty awarded for a high tackle by Smith.
Johnson then demonstrated his class with a mazy run on the last tackle, effortlessly fending off defenders before producing a 20-metre pass from which Vatuvei came up with a clinical finish.
Another touchline goal opened up an eight-point half-time lead but Australia struck back within two minutes of the restart when Daly Cherry-Evans\' break was finished off by Mata\'utia and Smith\'s second goal cut it to just two.
However, the Kiwis re-asserted their authority and hit their opponents with two tries in four minutes that demonstrated both poise and power to re-take control of the game.
First that man Johnson sliced through the first line of defence and evaded Inglis to touch down and then Vatuvei proved unstoppable against the inexperienced Mata\'utia as he steamrollered through his attempted tackle.
Johnson hit the uprights with both conversion attempts and the misses began to look costly when Hunt took Cooper Cronk\'s speculative offload to touch down and Smith\'s third goal from as many attempts cut the margin to four points.
Australia threw everything at the Kiwi line in the last two minutes and there was relief among the home fans when English referee Phil Bentham blew time on a game that demonstrated all the best qualities of arguably the toughest contact sport in the world.
New Zealand forward Martin Taupau caused alarm when he sustained a neck injury four minutes into the second half but he gave the thumps-up sign as he was being carried off on a stretcher and before the end of the game had found time to re-assure his fans on Twitter.
\"No need to panic peeps i just need someone to get me a bag of cement to toughen up!\" Taupau said.