By John Davidson, (RLP RLWC Correspondent) Date: 27/11/13
The final many predicted would eventuate before the tournament began will take place at Old Trafford this weekend.
Australia against New Zealand, the current holders versus the country who has won more World Cups than any other. The trans-Tasman rivals, who so famously met in the last World Cup final.
The Kiwis will feel relieved to be there. They got out of jail on Saturday at Wembley against an impressive England team.
The hosts dominated the match, limiting the New Zealanders opportunities and frustrating them. With a minute to go they look home and hosed. But then they went to sleep, a cardinal sin against a side as talented as the Kiwis.
The defending champions kept their composure, kept their heads and took the chance to win the game when it came to them. Shaun Johnson deftly scored a try and kicked the winning goal, shocking an entire nation.
It was a dramatic end to a classic game, one of the best international rugby league has seen for some time.
England will take a lot longer to get over this defeat and New Zealand will be better for the experience. They know they can come back from behind and have the mental toughness, the resilience to weather a storm and still keep swinging. Good teams find a way to win, even if they don’t play well, and that is exactly what the Kiwis did.
The England-New Zealand semi-final was a bruising affair with no quarter given. The Kiwis will be feeling it this week but may go into Saturday’s final more battle-hardened and ready for another tough battle.
Australia, on the other hand, had a cakewalk at Wembley. The 64-0 mauling of Fiji was one-sided and disappointing, an anti-climatic event compared to the fare 80 minutes before. Yes the Kangaroos demonstrated their dominance and ruthlessness, as well as an iron-tight defence, but they were asked few questions and may arrive in Manchester without really being tested.
The 64-0 result was double what Australia put on the Fijians in St Helens, 34-2 in the group stage. The Aussies have now scored 64, 62 and 50 points without conceding any in their last three games.
This kind of opposition may lead them a little underdone when they tackle the men in black.
These two teams know each every well, they played often and they know each other’s strengths and weaknesses. The Kangaroos have had the edge in the mid-year matches, but the Kiwis have had the wood in the finals. New Zealand won 16-12 in the 2010 Four Nations Final and pipped the Aussies in the last World Cup decider.
All talk of revenge has been avoided by the Australian team in recent weeks. They won’t want the spectre of 2008 to cloud their minds.
But this is a game the Aussies won’t want to let slip their fingers.
Interesting subplots range across this match. Prop James Tamou against the country of his birth and heritage. Manly teammates Daly Cherry-Evans and Keiran Foran against each other. South Sydney players Greg Inglis versus Isaac Luke.
Defence will be the key in this game, the different between two teams with red-hot attacks. Luke and the go forward and offloads of his Kiwi pack will be what the Aussies will be trying to stop. The quick play-the-balls and mobility of the smaller Australian forwards will be what the New Zealanders will be trying to stop.
Strap yourself in, get ready and enjoy. Sparks will fly and whoever wins, history will be made.