Billy Slater returns from injury for the Kangaroos. Image courtesy of foxsports.com.au/News Limited
It’s true Australia has had a fairly easy ride through the Rugby League World Cup to this point, but the Kangaroos could scarcely have been more impressive than they were in last week’s 64-0 demolition of Fiji in the semi-finals. It was a big step up from the performance the green and gold put in when they accounted for the Bati 34-2 in the group stage, but there will undoubtedly be lingering concerns that the team isn’t ready for a fire and brimstone grand final against its greatest rival, New Zealand .
The Kiwis only made it to this stage thanks to Shaun Johnson’s last-minute try which allowed them to sneak past host England 20-18 at Wembley Stadium last week. At times England dominated around the ruck and led by a first-class performance from Sam Burgess, it got the better of the much-vaunted New Zealand forward pack. Not for the first time in this tournament, the men from the Shaky Isles managed to put points on the board thanks to individual brilliance, rather than any great team cohesion.
The Kiwis have some injury concerns heading in to the final with second-rower Frank Pritchard definitely missing out due to a hamstring injury which kept him out of the semi-final. Stephen Kearney has named a 19-man squad for the decider which includes injury concerns Roger Tuivasa-Sheck (ankle) and Manu Vatuvei (groin). Australia has named fullback Billy Slater after the Melbourne Storm star recovered from a knee injury.
While Australia has dominated Trans-Tasman Test matches over the past decade, New Zealand has won the matches that really mattered. Showing they tend to improve throughout major tournaments, the Kiwis have notched up wins in the 2005 and 2010 Tri Nations finals, as well as the last 2008 World Cup decider in Brisbane. Importantly, the men in black have won the past two matches played on neutral turf.
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