By John Davidson, Date: 22/10/14
A new-look Australian side meets a fired-up New Zealand on Saturday in a replay of the 2013 World Cup final.
The trans-Tasman rivals come together almost a year after the Kangaroos blitzed the Kiwis at Old Trafford and five months since Australia convincingly won the Anzac Test. Fast forward 12 months later and Australia will be very different from the 17-man outfit that won the World Cup in Manchester.
Of that team only Greg Inglis, Cooper Cronk, Daly Cherry-Evans, Cameron Smith and Greg Bird, Sam Thaiday, Corey Parker and Josh Papalli will face New Zealand at Suncorp Stadium. Inglis will be in his preferred position of fullback, instead of the centres, while Cherry-Evans will slot alongside Cronk in the halves instead of on the bench.
Australia is missing nine of the 17 who appeared in the World Cup final and will field five debutants on Saturday.
Josh Mansour, Dylan Walker, Daniel Tupou, Aaron Woods and Aidan Guerra will make their first appearances for Australia. All have strong NRL experience, some have tasted Origin and Tupou and Guerra appeared in last year’s World Cup for Tonga and Italy respectively.
Regardless of the talent available and in the inexperience in some areas, it is still a very strong Kangaroos side with the likes of Smith, Inglis, Cronk and Cherry-Evans.
Like the Aussies, New Zealand have some new faces of their own.
Manly’s Peta Hiku gets the fullback role, after an impressive performance for the Kiwis earlier in the year, while Penrith whizkid Dallin Watene-Zelezniak will make his Test debut if he recovers from a foot injury.
Shaun Kenny-Dowall gets a recall, the same as Greg Eastwood and Tohu Harris. There is some star power left out with no Sonny Bill Williams, who has returned to rugby union, Isaac Luke and Roosters duo Roger Tuivasa-Sheck and Jared Waerea-Hargreaves.
These four players will be very difficult to replace, especially Rabbitohs rake Luke. Thomas Leuluai, normally a five-eighth, has a huge job on his hands to replace the dynamic hooker.
With Shaun Johnson and Kieran Foran returning at 6 and 7, New Zealand does have some stability and direction in key positions. The Kiwis smell blood in the water with the Kangaroos missing forwards like Paul Gallen and Matt Scott, along with backs such as Jonathan Thurston and Jarryd Hayne. This could be their time to shine.
But Australia’s depth is legendary and New Zealand must tread with caution. The men in black were blown away in the second half in May after giving the Kangaroos a fright early on.
The Kiwis led 18-12 at half-time but couldn’t go on with it and ended up losing 30-18 in Sydney.
New Zealand will need to again to show the same character and commitment, but improve its defensive output, if it is to contain Australia for the full 80 minutes.
The Kangaroos have home advantage in their favour with the next few games staged in New Zealand, including the final. Tim Sheens’ men will want to make this fixture count and set down a marker for the rest of the Four Nations.
With both teams blooding new players, this game should tell us a lot about the tournament and who will be still around next month.
Australia 2014 Rugby League Four Nations Line-up:
1 Greg Inglis
2 Josh Mansour
3 Michael Jennings
4 Dylan Walker
5 Daniel Tupou
6 Daly Cherry-Evans
7 Cooper Cronk
8 Aaron Woods
9 Cameron Smith (c)
10 Sam Thaiday
11 Beau Scott
12 Ryan Hoffman
13 Greg Bird
14 Robbie Farah
15 Aidan Guerra
16 Josh Papalii
17 Corey Parker
18 Boyd Cordner
19 David Klemmer
20 Sione Mata’utia
Head coach: Tim Sheens
New Zealand 2014 Rugby League Four Nations Line-up:
11-Simon Mannering (captain)
Head coach: Stephen Kearney