Keep switch flicked on, warns Benji Marshall

LIAM NAPIER
Last updated 05:00 30/11/2013

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Don't switch off.

That's Benji Marshall's plea to the Kiwis.

Naturally the former Kiwis' captain is hoping it is his successor Simon Mannering, not Cameron Smith, lifting the coveted trophy tomorrow morning.

"I can still claim I'm [one of] the last Kiwi World Cup holder until Sunday," Marshall said.

"I hope that changes."

From a distance - in between gruelling preseason workouts with the Blues - Marshall has monitored the Kiwis' progress. He's been impressed by the hard grind of punishing forwards Jared Waerea-Hargreaves and Sonny Bill Williams and the dynamic dummyhalf bursts from the tournament's form player, Issac Luke.

If Stephen Kearney's pack brings the same physically imposing mentality, Marshall believes they will defend their crown at Old Trafford, but only just.

"With the conditions over there being dewy and cold it plays into our hands a little bit," he said.

"Our forward pack has been outstanding this tournament. We're big and strong through the middle and have good offloading ability. If we can do that, control the play the ball and limit the amount of ball Australia can get wide to Greg Inglis and Jarryd Hayne, the better off we're going to be.

"The game is going to be won in the play the ball speed. Our forwards have got the better play the ball and with Issac playing the way he is it makes it good for us.

"If we win it will be by six points or less."

As usual, the Kiwis go into the final as rank underdogs. That's in no small part down the manner of their epic last-gasp semifinal escape against England, thanks to Shaun Johnson's magic. But it's also due to their frustrating, historic tendency to clock off.

Unlike previous Kiwi teams, this outfit has depth and class throughout. They should be confident of matching the Australians, to a man.

In these crunch games, though, mental tenacity and accuracy is just as valuable as physical brawn.

Dominating the collisions will count for nothing if Kearney's men lose concentration, even for the smallest period. Johnathan Thurston and Cooper Cronk only need a sniff. They won't need a second chance.

During 25 tests for the Kiwis Marshall learnt this valuable lesson the hard way. It made savouring the memorable triumph in 2008 all the more special.

"Every time we've beaten them we've played for the whole 80 minutes. Every time we've lost there's been a 10 minute period where we've let them sneak in," he identified.

"During that time they've scored three tries and put us out.

"We were the massive underdogs [in 2008]. No-one expected us to win. We just backed ourselves. The same has to happen now.

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"We've got nothing to lose. In all honesty we're lucky to be there. But now we've got the chance to win the World Cup, again. At least now we know what it takes to win.

"It's a big challenge but we can do it."

- Fairfax Media

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