Australia v New Zealand | Monday, November 21, 1.30am (AEDT), Anfield, Liverpool
The Australian Kangaroos will be looking to restore some lost national sporting pride when they take on New Zealand in the final of the Four Nations tournament this weekend.
Mal Meninga’s side have cruised into the decider on the back of three comprehensive victories, knocking hosts England out of the event with a 36-18 win in front of a healthy crowd at London’s Olympic Stadium last Sunday.
The same can’t be said of the Kiwis, who will have to pick themselves up in a hurry after their embarrassing draw with Scotland in Workington, a fixture that also resulted in pivot Thomas Leuluai sustaining a double fracture of the jaw that may end his international career.
Coach David Kidwell was scathing of the playing surface on offer in the far north for that game but the decision to play the final at Anfield, home of English soccer giants Liverpool, may actually work in his favour after it was revealed that the playing surface will be reduced to 91m in length to accommodate the need for sufficient in-goal areas.
That may produce a tighter, more forward-oriented affair which would appear to suit the Kiwis based on what we have seen over the course of the tournament.
While Sam Thaiday’s fractured eye socket will also see him miss out, Meninga’s decision to rotate his squad leaves him with an otherwise fresh line-up to pick from although he's unlikely to deviate too far from the squad that got the job done in London.
David Klemmer was superb against a fired-up England side but with the likes of Boyd Cordner (pictured above) and Matt Gillett also in peak form he’ll probably be reserved for shorter stints off the bench.
Shannon Boyd is tipped to replace Thaiday having generated some nice minutes in the Kangaroos’ earlier wins in the event.
The pool match between these two sides finished 14-8 in Australia’s favour, with New Zealand somewhat unlucky not to snatch a point after a heroic late fightback that saw Shaun Johnson unable to ground the ball in the final minute after jinking his way through the line.
The enigmatic halfback had only moments earlier set up a try for winger Jordan Rapana with an instinctive chip and chase that revived memories of the exploits of Phil Blake in the 1980s and remains the obvious danger man for the Kangaroos.
Kidwell was also forced to defend accusations of a culture problem within his squad after the Scotland game, suggesting the demands of touring for more than a month had taken some toll on his troops and that had contributed somewhat to their lacklustre performance.
New Zealand invariably save their best for their greatest rivals and it’s also worth noting they only narrowly saw off Samoa in the group stages of the 2014 event before overwhelming Australia in a memorable final, a scenario that will surely have Meninga wary of a similar form reversal come Sunday night.
Unibet Odds: Australia 1.23 New Zealand 4.25
First Try Scorer: Greg Inglis
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