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Australia v New Zealand

Allianz Stadium, Sydney

Friday, 7.30pm

Six months ago, Australia and New Zealand boasted full-strength line-ups that wouldn’t be out of place in the annals of history as two of the most devastating teams ever assembled. Fast forward to now, and things look a little different.

In what will go down as either a master-stroke, or one of the game’s biggest debacles, Kiwis coach Stephen Kearney comes into the ANZAC Test with a side that has half the experience of the Kangaroos, having left out some big names in favour of youth, while Kangaroos mentor Tim Sheens has largely stuck to the formula that won Australia the 2013 World Cup – his team is now closing in on Australia’s ‘Invincibles’ of 1979-1983, who won 16 straight matches. A win on Friday night will see them equal that record.

But with the deck seemingly stacked in Australia’s favour, there may be a method to Kearney’s madness – especially in the long-run as New Zealand looks to re-capture the World crown in 2017. Plans for that campaign have clearly already been thrown into motion, and Kearney’s line-up proves it.

Tim Sheens’ important men, such as; Slater, Thurston, Cronk and Smith, are all on the wrong side of 30, and that’s something that Sheens is well aware of, admitting that new blood will have to be brought in soon. But rather than focus on that fact, Sheens urged rugby league fans to get out and see what he believes is a once in a lifetime team take the field.

“The average age is closer to 30 than 20 so maybe they won’t be together that much longer,” Sheens said.

“So it’s a good chance to come out and support them. I’m hoping given that it’s the first time in six years that an Australian Test side has played in the middle of Sydney (Allianz Stadium), I’d be very disappointed if they didn’t come out to honour those boys.

“They’ve played really well for Australia and represented their country last year in England and this is the first chance since winning the World Cup you’ll get to see them – and maybe the last chance.”

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Last Time They Met

Australia thrashed New Zealand 34-2 in the final of the 2013 Rugby League World Cup, putting on a clinical performance in front of a record crowd at Old Trafford to be again crowned World Champions.

It was an intense opening with the Kangaroos applying pressure from the first set, forcing an error from Jesse Bromwich. While they didn't take advantage of the early field position, they were the first to score, Thurston landing an easy penalty for a 2-0 lead.

Disaster struck early for the Kiwis when Roger Tuivasa-Sheck limped off after just one touch, succumbing to his previously injured leg.

The Kangaroos lead was short lived however when a lazy high tackle gifted the Kiwis two points.

The first try came through some brilliant play. First Smith landed a pin-point long kick to force a dropout before an inch perfect cross-field kick to the advantage of Slater handed the Aussies the first try and an 8-2 lead after 20 minutes.

Minutes later, Issac Luke held up Cooper Cronk after Jarryd Hayne expertly kept the ball alive with a kick back in-field. Cronk gathered the kick before Luke somehow managed to get both hands under the ball with Fifita penalised for advancing the tackled player.

Cronk wasn't to be denied a second time when Darius Boyd broke down the left hand edge and grubbered ahead. The Storm half regathered and dove over for the Kangaroos second try. The subsequent conversion gave Johnathan Thurston his 310th International point, breaking Mick Cronin's record.

Just before half-time Thurston added more points as the Kiwis gave away another silly penalty right in front of the posts for a 16-2 lead.

The Kangaroos wasted no time in the second half as Boyd linked up with Slater down the short side to extend the lead to 22-2.

The onslaught continued when Jarryd Hayne sprinted clear and kicked ahead. Brett Morris chased the ball down, planting it in-goal before slamming into the fence beyond the very narrow in-goals. Morris clutched at his side and remained on the deck for a few minutes but eventually shook off the injury and carried on.

Hayne was involved again when he intercepted a loose Sonny-Bill Williams pass – racing 60 metres before sending Morris clear. Thurston made it seven from seven as the Kangaroos raced to a 34-2 lead.

Issac Luke tried hard to spark something for the Kiwis, but the Australians were ruthless in defence. Several times they found good field position but were unable to find the last pass with the pressure proving too much. The Kangaroos expertly ran down the clock, recording a 34-2 win with Thurston a well deserving man of the match.

Incredibly the Kangaroos played for more than 400 minutes in the tournament without conceding a try, their last coming way back in the first game of the tournament.

Keys to Victory

If the two line-ups are anything to go by, you can expect an Australian team that will take the field all guns blazing, picking up where they left off in the World Cup Final. Clinical, grinding, and patient play is the name of the game for the green and gold’s and they will slot straight back into gear.

The Storm, Maroon and Kangaroo spine of Cameron Smith, Cooper Cronk and Billy Slater are so used to playing together that blindfolds should be made mandatory to give oppositions and fighting chance, and with the likes of Greg Inglis, the Morris twins and Darius Boyd rounding out the back-line, Australia are as imposing an outfit as ever.

The Kiwis will be missing the likes of Kieran Foran, Jared Waerea Hargreaves and Issac Luke, with six debutants set to don the black and white for the first time. The Kiwis will have to come together quickly and to devastating effect if they are to be any chance of victory.

Experienced forwards such as Simon Mannering, Sam Moa and Kevin Proctor will have to lay the platform under the constant fire of the Kangaroo forwards – no small task – and make it enough to put their backline into a scoring position, where Shaun Johnson can work his magic. Is it possible? You bet. Will the Kiwis realistically have enough though? We live in hope.

Play to Watch

The Kangaroos can find the line from anywhere on the pitch with their breadth of strike-power – in part thanks to halves like Jonathan Thurston and Cooper Cronk. But it’s from the scrum deep inside their-own half that Australia is most dangerous.

Watch for a short-side play off the back of a 20 metre scrum that has the potential to see the likes of Greg Inglis streak the remaining 80 metres to plant the ball over the line. If it’s not Inglis, it’ll be one of the Morris twins, or Darius Boyd, or Billy Slater – or anyone within ear-shot wearing green and gold. Such is their talent, and such is the beauty of any Kangaroos line-up.

Spotlight – Greg Inglis

Inglis enjoyed a brilliant 2013 World Cup that saw the big Rabbitoh play in both the centres as well as filling in for Billy Slater at fullback following his injury. There’s no denying that Inglis is at his brutal best when he’s wearing the number one jersey – amassing nearly 700 metres at the World Cup, but he having won the title of being the best centre in the world not too long ago, he’s not too shabby wearing the number three or four either.

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