It may have taken a while, but at last the Kiwis have got a game at this Rugby League World Cup that New Zealanders can get excited about.
Playing England in a semifinal in front of 70,000 spectators at the iconic Wembley Stadium tomorrow morning is certainly a far cry from going up against some of the minnow nations with hastily thrown together teams in compact stadiums, which is what the Kiwis have experienced so far.
While England got to play - and lose to - Australia, in the opening game of this World Cup, everything the Kiwis have done in their previous five games on this trip has been about building towards 2am tomorrow morning.
Up until now, everything has gone well for Stephen Kearney's side. The squad are harmonious, the performances have improved in each game, Kearney has been able to get his best players into good form and get those combinations gelling.
The only downside is the the loss of Manu Vatuvei for this must-win game with a groin strain, but Jason Nightingale is a more than adequate replacement on the left wing.
And, of course, there is the subplot of the clash between Sonny Bill Williams and giant England forward Sam Burgess. In Williams' first game for the Roosters in March after returning to the NRL from rugby, Burgess lined the Kiwi up and trampled over the top of him moments after he took to the field.
There's already no love lost there so the fact former England great Garry Schofield has called on Burgess to get under Williams' skin and put him off his game in the semifinal only adds further spice to the contest.
Burgess showed a few times in the NRL this year that he's not averse to a bit of niggle but his Rabbitohs team-mate and now Kiwis opponent Issac Luke doesn't see him as that type of player.
"I don't think he's like that," Luke said. "I know he [Burgess] steps up for the big games and this is a big one. He'll be doing everything within his power to do the job for England, so we're going to have to contain him."
Kiwis prop Jared Waerea-Hargreaves believes while Burgess is "passionate", he's not the type to play with malice.
"I've played against him a few times now and the guy plays with his heart and give his all in every match.
"We know what he's going to be like this weekend; he's going to go out and give his all and so will everyone else who's playing for England."
As for Burgess, he says he respects what Williams brings to the game and admires the way he carries himself off the field, but admits that those feelings will be put aside come 2am tomorrow.
"He's a very nice, humble guy," Burgess said. "He's very respectful and a great athlete. I've certainly got a lot of respect for Sonny. Once you get on the field it's a competitive game and I guess we'll both get stuck in.
"But he's great for the game, great for the World Cup and it'll be tough to control him. But we'll look forward to that challenge."
While the Kiwis are the favourites, their recent record against England on English soil is pretty horrific. But rarely has a Kiwis side ever had as good preparation for a big test as this one.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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