Friday night’s Test match between Australia and New Zealand at Allianz Stadium shapes as another terrific encounter with both sides featuring the very best players from both sides of the Tasman.
It’s an opportunity for the Kiwis to exact revenge following their 34-2 loss in the 2013 Rugby League World Cup final loss to Australia. Only 5 Kiwi players remain from that match, and their forwards are lacking, with no Jared Waerea-Hargreaves or Sonny Bill Williams. The Australians have retained 13 members from that side and this will be a telling factor; the experienced Australians up against a New Zealand side featuring six players yet to play international rugby league.
The 32-point margin in that game represents the gap between the two sides and the Kiwis’ record in these one-off Tests is not great, losing the last 10 clashes dating back to 2003, and I see this one being no different. The Australian team, regardless of who plays, are clinical, professional, composed and consistent, led by the best international spine of all time in Billy Slater, Jonathan Thurston, Cooper Cronk and skipper Cameron Smith. An all-time great fullback in Greg Inglis shifts to centre, that’s how good the team is.
The Kiwis, on the other hand, rely on ad-lib football and lack the patience to put together an 80 minute performance in these one-off matches. They may be able to hold their own with Australia for 20 or 30 minutes, but they will struggle to repel the Australian attack for long periods. The Australians are well served with play makers; the 2013 Dally M Medallist Daly Cherry-Evans comes off the bench while Thurston, Cronk and Smith have been exceptional for a long time.
The Kiwis have the enigmatic Shaun Johnson, but the young half back will have the weight of an entire nation on his shoulders with Kieran Foran out for a few weeks with a knee injury and no other genuine five eighths in the squad. There is a chance Melbourne Storm utility Tohu Harris will play at six, but I’m not sure how his passing and kicking game will fare on the international stage.
The Kiwis have always been competitive in these matches, but only in patches and there has always been a sense that the Australians could blow them off the park with enough possession and field position. They have plenty of strike power out wide with Inglis and the Morris twins, and a tough and experienced forward pack led by lock Paul Gallen. The Kiwis lack depth in the halves and are missing key personnel in the forwards and will struggle to match it with Australia.