COVENTRY, England (AP) — Australia held off a second-half fightback from New Zealand to beat its fierce rival 14-8 in Four Nations rugby league on Saturday, justifying its status as the title favorite.
Big winger Blake Ferguson scored one try and set up another for star halfback Johnathan Thurston as the world champion Kangaroos built a 10-0 lead at halftime.
Tries by wingers Solomone Kata and Jordan Rapana brought the Kiwis within a converted try of drawing level, and halfback Shaun Johnson barreled his way over the line as the final hooter sounded, only to be denied a try because the ball was held up off the ground.
The result left the Australians in sight of the final, having started the tournament with a 54-12 win over Scotland.
New Zealand and England, which beat Scotland 38-12 earlier in the double-header in Coventry, each has one win, and appear to be battling for the other place in the Nov. 20 final at Anfield, the home stadium of soccer club Liverpool.
The English have the tougher task: They'll need to beat Australia at the London Stadium, and hope New Zealand doesn't run up a big score against Scotland, the newcomer and weakest team in the Four Nations.
No team outside the sport's traditional big three — Australia, New Zealand and England — has won a game in five editions of the Four Nations, and that's still the case despite a spirited start by the Scots, who went 8-0 up against England after 24 minutes .
Kane Linnett and Matty Russell, with a brilliant airborne finish in the left corner, scored the tries for Scotland in the first ever meeting between the neighbors.
That only served to spark England into life. Elliott Whitehead's two tries put England 12-8 ahead at halftime, before Mark Percival, Ryan Hall, Jermain McGillvary, Luke Gale, and Liam Farrell dotted down in the second half.
Hall's try was his national record-extending 30th in 30 tests, while Farrell crossed on the last play of the game for a try that could yet be important in terms of points difference.
England opened with a 17-16 loss to New Zealand last weekend.