Rugby League World Cup final the Kiwis' to win
DAVID LONG IN MANCHESTER
So it's come down to this. After 27 games and 219 tries over six weeks, it's the two trans-Tasman rivals who will battle it out in the final for the Rugby League Cup tomorrow morning for the third time in a row.
The only occasion when the Kangaroos didn't make the final was in the inaugural tournament in 1954, while the the Kiwis' appearances have been more sporadic, having made it all the way to the big show on just three previous occasions.
Of course, Australia go into the final as the strong favourites and as they've scored 210 points and conceded just two in their last four games, it's hard to find any faults with how they're playing.
Their coach Tim Sheens has done a good job in keeping the players level-headed and in Cameron Smith he's got a captain who's not only one of the best players in the world, but also an outstanding leader. There won't be any arrogance from this side like there was five years ago when the Kiwis caused a massive upset to claim the silverware at Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane.
They are based around a Queensland side that has been one of the most dominant in the history of State of Origin and at least a handful of players in this Kangaroos team could one day be bestowed the honour of joining the sport's 'Immortals'.
So if you put all of that together, should the Kiwis even bother to turn up?
They did a magnificent job in beating England last week and thus bringing down the curtain on most of the local media coverage at this tournament, so shouldn't New Zealanders be satisfied with that? As long as the scoreline is respectable in the early hours of tomorrow morning, isn't that the best we can hope for?
"That's not how we're looking at it," Kiwis captain Simon Mannering said.
"We haven't achieved anything really. It is great to be in the final, but we came to this World Cup looking to win it, that's the attitude we have and we won't settle for anything less." While it won't be easy, this Kiwis side does have the quality in it to defend the World Cup. It will need them to play at their best for the whole 80 minutes, something they haven't yet achieved at this tournament and also for Sonny Bill Williams and the other x-factor players to have great games.
It is going to take something special to score a try against Australia, but Issac Luke, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck and Williams have it in them to do that.
But it will also need the players to keep composed; Mannering had to warn Frank-Paul Nu'uausala to calm down against England after a brain explosion from him.
"Hopefully we don't have to do too much of it, but if it comes up, then so be it," Mannering said.
"There will probably be stages in the game where we might have to settle things down or what not.
"I know all of the guys are looking forward to it, but you definitely don't want to get too wound up about it all, because it takes away from your own game and we'll have to keep tabs on that." Mannering is quite an unassuming character, there's not much brashness about him and he's not an eloquent captain like Smith.
He is your typical, 'follow him into battle' and 'less is more'-type skipper.
There won't be any long motivational speech from him before the players take to the field at Old Trafford; instead it might be just a few quiet words.
"You never have anything set in stone. It's about what the feeling is like in the group, or how the guys are in certain situations," he said.
"I don't go into the game with a set plan because it's different every time. If I feel something needs to be said, for sure, I will and Stephen [coach Kearney] is the same.
"There is no great speech like you see in the movies, that you've rehearsed and say before you get out on the field and it helps you win the game.
"It is about how individuals are focused and how they'll perform on the field." And that's what it will come down to in the final. You know what you're going to get from Australia, it's what the Kiwis come up with that's in question. The World Cup isn't Australia's to lose, it's New Zealand's to win.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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