Enforcer Pritchard loses World Cup final battle
Frank Pritchard has lost his battle to be fit for Sunday morning's (NZ time) Rugby League World Cup final.
The Kiwis second-rower was given one more chance to prove his fitness overnight, but has failed to recover well enough from his hamstring injury, picked up more than a week ago.
While the rest of the squad were given a day off, Pritchard hit the training field with the Kiwis coaches and medical staff closely observing.
But for Pritchard and coach Stephen Kearney, the outcome wasn't positive.
If it was an ordinary match a chance might have been taken with the big second rower, but the worst-case scenario was that if Pritchard strained his hamstring again, it left the Kiwis having to complete the game with just 16 fit men.
"He'd love to play, and we'd love to have him there," Kearney said.
"But the stakes are as high as they get this weekend and he's not 100 per cent.
"It's naturally very tough for him to be this close and ruled out, but we're very happy with our cover."
Although the Kiwis have named a 19-man squad in alphabetical order, it's almost certain that Simon Mannering will start again from the second row and Elijah Taylor play at lock.
There are three wingers in the squad, but one will drop out of the team when it's cut to 17 players for the game.
If Manu Vatuvei is over his groin problem, which he appears to be, he'll take one of the wingers' berths, with Roger Tuivasa-Sheck getting the other and Jason Nightingale watching the final from the stands.
The other change to the squad from the one that beat England last week is Greg Eastwood coming in for Sam Moa, although it's likely he will join Nightingale as one of the two players to miss out on the playing-day 17.
Meanwhile, Kangaroos winger Billy Slater has been named in Australia's 19-man squad.
The star fullback hurt a knee in the quarterfinal win over USA and was forced to miss last weekend's semifinal against Fiji. With him back, Greg Inglis will move to the centres and Brent Tate should drop out.
While there has been plenty of talk inside the Kiwis camp about the need to lift their game after the thrilling 20-18 win over England last weekend, Australia's Matthew Scott feels likewise about his side, even though they beat Fiji 64-0 in their semifinal.
"We have got to really knuckle down this week," Scott said.
"We will keep working on our defence. We can't take the scoreline from our game against Fiji into too much consideration.
"We will do our homework on the Kiwis and come out against them as strong as we can.
"I thought it went pretty well against Fiji, we kept our defensive focus and to keep another team to nil was pretty good.
"The defence has been good throughout the tournament. We conceded a couple of easy tries against England early on but since then we spoke about improving in that area, and to our credit, we have.
"But we are going to have to be a lot better in all areas to beat New Zealand. We are coming up against top opposition now and against Fiji I think we lost our way a little bit with some of our plays."
Scott felt their World Cup final opponents would have benefited from a titanic encounter with host nation England in the other Big Hit semi-final at Wembley last weekend, but does not want to read too much into Australia's opponents.
"New Zealand had a tougher game and they showed they can grind out a win" Scott said.
"When you're preparing for a World Cup final that's probably the best preparation you can have.
"We have had relatively straightforward games against USA and Fiji, but New Zealand were put to the test and that should benefit them on Saturday.
"I think having a tougher test would have been better for us but I don't think it will make too much of a difference. You can't look back too much on these games, you have just got to take what you can out of it."
New Zealand (probable lineup): Kevin Locke, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, Dean Whare, Bryson Goodwin, Manu Vatuvei, Kieran Foran, Shaun Johnson, Jesse Bromwich, Issac Luke, Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, Simon Mannering (c), Sonny Bill Williams, Elijah Taylor. Interchange (from): Sam Kasiano, Ben Matulino, Frank-Paul Nu'uausala, Alex Glenn, Greg Eastwood, Jason Nightingale
Australia (probable lineup): Billy Slater, Brett Morris, Greg Inglis, Jarryd Hayne, Darius Boyd, Johnathan Thurston, Cooper Cronk, Matthew Scott, Cameron Smith (c), James Tamou, Greg Bird, Sam Thaiday, Paul Gallen. Interchange: (from) Daly Cherry-Evans, Josh Papalii, Andrew Fifita, Corey Parker, Nate Myles, Brent Tate.