By John Davidson, Date: 12/11/14
It looked very unlikely after the opening match defeat but Australia has somehow found a way into the Four Nations final.
And they will enter the game as they start to hit form, with their confidence rising and their much-maligned forward pack starting to make inroads.
The Kangaroos were woeful against New Zealand in their first match, going down 30-12 in Brisbane. The Kiwis ran riot and were completely dominant, giving the world champions a real wake-up call.
In the next game Australia rode its luck against England, recovering after a poor first-half to sneak home 16-12. The Kangaroos managed to come back in the second half and secure a four-point win, with a nervy final moment with Ryan Hall’s disallowed try.
In that match there were glimpses of the potential of the Australian side, flashes of what they could do, and that seemed to all come together against Samoa.
Daly Cherry-Evans, in the unfamiliar position of five-eighth, had one of his best games in the green and gold and Greg Inglis was immense. Cameron Smith ran the game from hooker and the Aussie forwards stepped up.
As the tournament has progressed the likes of Josh Papalii and Aaron Woods have grown in stature. David Klemmer had a great debut in the Samoa clash, while Josh Jackson also received his first cap.
Tim Sheen’s new-look side, filled with rookies, is starting to hit its straps. It could be an ominous side for the Kiwis.
Sione Mata’uita may be barely out of nappies but he hasn’t looked out of the place in the Australian side. Despite its bumpy start, the Kangaroos will fancy their chances on Saturday.
Yes, New Zealand are unbeaten and yes, the final is on their home turf. But the Aussies appear in much better shape than when they last met at Suncorp Stadium.
Combinations are coming together and the team is now gelling nicely. Beau Scott is expected to miss the final with a hamstring injury but Sheens is blessed with back-row depth.
Considering the size of the Kiwi pack, and the way they bullied the Aussies at Suncorp Stadium, Klemmer is a good chance of claiming a spot in the bench. Robbie Farah is also pushing hard for the utility role, although Ben Hunt has looked the goods when he has come on.
Sam Thaiday says bragging rights are up for grabs in the Four Nations final and he is right. The Kangaroos might have been a class above in the 2013 World Cup final but you are only as good as your last game.
New Zealand has a history of staging upsets in finals, most notably in the 2005 Tri-Nations, the 2008 World Cup and the 2010 Four Nations. The Australians will be on guard for another killer Kiwi performance.
Defence will be key in this game, as well getting off to a good start.
In last year’s World Cup it was a virtual shutout, with the Kangaroos running out 34-2 victors. It is unlikely to be as one-sided in Wellington this weekend.