By John Davidson, Date: 6/11/14
New Zealand will be aiming for a hat-trick of Four Nations wins and England, desperate for a place in the final, when the two nations meet on Saturday.
New Zealand has seen off Australia and Samoa in the past two weeks and could still advance to the decider with a draw or a close loss. England has one victory from two games, over Samoa, but if they defeat the Kiwis by 10 points or more they will earn a spot in the final.
If the Kangaroos defeat Samoa, as many pundits expect, points difference will be crucial if the English get past the Kiwis. A defeat by less than nine points means New Zealand will still make the final.
England was incredibly unlucky against Australia in Melbourne, with the video referee ruling out a potential last-minute try to Ryan Hall.
Hall got a touch on the ball, but with questions around downward pressure, the score was not awarded. It meant the Kangaroos escaped with a vital four-point win after falling behind for most of the match.
England was impressive for 50 minutes, allowing the Aussies little breathing room, but let their foot off the gas in the second half, which proved fatal.
England will need to be at their best for the full 80 minutes to beat the Kiwis, the only side in this tournament with a perfect record.
New Zealand will have home advantage, with the match played at Dunedin’s Forsyth Barr Stadium, and will want to improve after an inconsistent performance against Samoa. Shaun Kenny-Dowall saved New Zealand from an embarrassing upset against Samoa, but England are unlikely to be as giving in defence as the Pacific Islanders.
This is shaping up to be a battle of two giant forward packs, both intending on asserting its dominance over the other.
The duel of James Graham against Greg Eastwood and the Burgess twins against Isaac Luke, as NRL teammates come head-to-head, should be worth the price of admission alone.
England has named an unchanged line-up, going for consistency and combinations in its selections. Captain Sean O’Loughlin made a difference against Australia and will be a valuable asset for this match.
The last time these two sides met was in the World Cup semi-final at Wembley last November. That classic match, full of drama and emotion, was arguably the best rugby league game of any type during the whole of 2013.
If this encounter in Dunedin can go close to matching its ferocity and thrills at all then we are in for one hell of a Test.
Expect the England defence to be on high alert whenever Shaun Johnson has the ball, New Zealand’s hero at Wembley has been in fine form and can win a match all on his own.