Date: 15th September, 2014
Venue: Westpac Stadium, Wellington
Kick-off: 6:45 pm

Teams

New Zealand Kiwis: 1. Peta Hiku 2. Jason Nightingale 3. Shaun Kenny-Dowall 4. Dean Whare 5. Manu Vatuvei 6. Kieran Foran 7. Shaun Johnson 8. Jesse Bromwich 9. Issac Luke 10. Adam Blair 11. Simon Mannering 12. Kevin Proctor 13. Jason Taumalolo Interchange: 14. Lewis Brown 15. Greg Eastwood 16. Martin Taupau 17. Tohu Harris 18. Gerard Beale 19. Bodene Thompson

Australian Kangaroos: 1. Greg Inglis 2. Josh Mansour 3. Michael Jennings 4. Dylan Walker 5. Sione Mata’utia 6. Daly Cherry-Evans 7. Cooper Cronk 8. Aaron Woods 9. Cameron Smith (c) 10. Josh Papalii 11. Sam Thaiday 12. Greg Bird 13. Corey Parker Interchange: 14. Boyd Cordner 15. Robbie Farah 16. Aidan Guerra 17. Ryan Hoffman 18. Ben Hunt 19. Josh Jackson 20. David Klemmer

Tournament Form

New Zealand
v England W 16-14
v Samoa W 14-12
v Australia W 30-12

Australia
v Samoa W 44-18
v England W 16-12
v New Zealand L 12-30

 

Preview

The Four Nations tournament draws to a close on Saturday night, when the New Zealand Kiwis host the pre tournament favourites, the Australian Kangaroos, in Wellington.

While it is the final that most expected leading in to the tournament, it hasn’t been an easy ride for either side, with the Kangaroos in particular lucky to have made the decider.

In fact, had the video referee ruled in favour of an England try when they clashed with the Australians, the Kangaroos would have been sent packing after just two rounds.

The Kiwis have a perfect form line for the tournament, travelling through unscathed, despite some close calls against Samoa and England, winning by just two on both occasions. The New Zealand sides most complete performance was against the old enemy in Australia, where they punished the green and gold in a 30-12 thrashing to open their tournament.

The final shapes to be a lot closer than that encounter.

While the Kiwis have looked solid in their last two matches, they haven’t been able to finish off their opposition, something the Kangaroos perfected against Samoa.  if the New Zealanders aren’t on their game, a resurgent Australia have the personnel to make them pay.

New Zealand need not be overawed by their opposition though. Australia has been understrength all tournament and have shown they are vulnerable. If the Kiwis can dominate the ruck, the speedy Australian backline will be held at bay.

The Samoans, who had used their powerful forwards effectively all tournament till last week, showed that is you let Australia get a roll up the middle they will be unstoppable. The Island teams inability to remain disciplined should also be a warning to New Zealand. If you give Australia penalties, they will find a way to make you pay.

But discipline has been a strength for the New Zealand side. They have conceded less penalties than their opposition in their three Four Nations matches so far. In a game that is likely to be played at a high pace, the pressure created on the opposition by not giving away penalties could go a long way to deciding the contest.

There is also a number of key players in both sides who will need to fire to bring the trophy home.

For Australia, it is the likes of Greg Inglis, Daly Cherry- Evans, Cameron Smith, and Josh Papalii.

Inglis was instrumental in the thrashing of the Samoan side last week, the full back outstanding in positioning himself effectively in both attack and defence, scoring two tries for his efforts, and saving one as the Samoan Hooker went close.

Cherry-Evans looked nervous in his first few representative games, but is beginning to look at home. The Kangaroo’s halfback is a creative dynamo, and showed he also has speed to burn last week. Cherry-Evans will need to effectively feed the ball to his outside men if they are to threaten the Kiwis defence. His willingness to run the ball makes him more of a mystery in attack, keeping defenders honest.

Cameron Smith is always a key man for Australia, not only from dummy half, but also through his mountainous work load. The Australian captain last week made a game high tackle count of 42, a workload he will need to repeat to keep the New Zealanders from gaining to much ground up the middle.

Another key man in watching the middle area of the field is Papalii. The prop may seem out of place in a list of key players, however the Kangaroos showed last week that power in the middle is vital to win a game of rugby league, and the raiders’ forward showed he can give them that. His try against the Samoans showed his strength, and Papalii will need to utilize this again to put the Australians on the front foot. While he is probably at long odds to score again, he can create the room for his back line to find their way over.

New Zealand have key players across the park, but the most notable are Manu Vatuvei, Kieran Foran, Shaun Johnson, Isaac Luke and Jason Taumalolo.

Vatuvei is one player who can wreck both opposition or at times his own side. While he is known for having off nights, the beast is unstoppable when he is on song. He would be expecting to be tested early on by the Australians, who will look to force an early error in a hope to throw him off his game. This tactic can backfire however, because if Vatuvei finds confidence by taking some high balls, he will unleash, and being a big and fast winger, he isn’t easy to reign in.

Foran and Johnson have now played together for a number of years and this is a big advantage for the New Zealand side. The experience of the pair and knowledge of each other’s games will help the side gel together nicely. Foran is great at taking the pressure off his fellow half when needed, which allows Johnson to settle into his game of speed and skill. The Kangaroos signaled Johnson out earlier this week as a major threat, with good reason. His footwork and acceleration make Johnson a real x-factor, and if he is given any room to move, their is danger for the opposition.

Luke will provide spark out of dummy half for the kiwis. The dynamic hooker is a real competitor and will sniff out lazy or tiring Australian defenders. After entering the fray off the bench last week, Luke comes in to the starting side this week in place of the injured Thomas Leuluai, and will give good service out of dummy half.

Taumalolo is just a mountain of a man, and will aim to drag in as many defenders as possible before looking for the offload. The Kiwi side feed of second phase play and it is the likes of Taumalolo who will allow this play to happen. Australia will need to wrap up the ball when defending against the big Cowboys forward, however his upper body strength makes it hard to hold on.

With strong teams named, the tournament should close out with a bang. Australia dominated New Zealand in the World Cup final, however the times look set top change in this encounter. Provided they can hold their nerve, New Zealand look more than capable of claiming the Four Nations.

Write off Australia at your own detriment though. They may have found their groove just in time.

Prediction

New Zealand by 4

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Sam Dasey studied a Bachelor of Sports Media at UC, graduating at the end of 2013. He has undertaken internships with Canberra Times and Touch Football Australia, as well as a local radio station in Canberra.