In preparation for their Four Nations campaign in the UK, Australia and New Zealand will face off in a Test match in Perth for the first time ever.

Last Time Out

Australia defeated New Zealand 16-0 in what was a rather dour affair. The Kangaroos opted for safety first as they decided not to play an offensive style of footy. They took shots at penalty goal when they arose to ensure they maintained a lead as opposed to putting on another attacking set and score a try. These tactics meant they grinded out a victory in a very scrappy game that saw no side produce any brilliant moments in attack. It was a game that attracted a lot of criticism from the viewing public and even the commentators viewing the match. New coach Mal Meninga defended the tactics used and maintained the players desire to win overruled the desire to put on a show for the fans.

New Zealand were hit by an injury crisis in preparation for that match with Tohu Harris being forced to shift to the centres, Kodi Nikorima being moved from the bench to 5/8 and Lewis Brown starting at Hooker. For this match coming up they have been able to avoid such disruptions with Jordan Rapana and Solomone Kata becoming new additions to the backline, Thomas Leuluai partnering Shaun Johnson in the halves and players like Issac Luke and Jared Waerea-Hargeaves earning recalls to their national side.

Australia have opted for a youthful approach to their side for the Test and Four Nations, with seven players potentially in line for a Kangaroos debut. Retiring veteran Corey Parker won’t receive a swansong international appearance and the ANZAC Test MOTM Paul Gallen won’t be present either. Selectors also chose not to include Andrew Fifita and Semi Radradra for purported off-field discretions in a move that has ignited debate around its legitimacy versus a public relations exercise.

Key Battle

Shaun Johnson vs Cooper Cronk. The livewire, flying footwork of Johnson against the composure and aligned sinews of Cronk.

New Zealand can gain all the ground in the forward battle but it will be meaningless if Johnson goes into his shell or is unable to crack through the Australian defence. His running game will be key as he has demonstrated before in the 2014 Four Nations and 2015 Anzac Test just how dangerous he can be when he takes on the line and gets into open space. If Johnson’s firing on Saturday then it’s a safe bet the Kiwis will be in good stead to win the match.

On the other hand Cooper Cronk’s meticulous approach to structured play and his ability to control the game could unravel New Zealand and change the momentum in Australia’s favour. His kicking game from long range and close to the line can mount pressure on the Kiwis, starving them of possession and keep them camped in their own end. His own running game isn’t to be underestimated either as his support play and charges close to the line throughout the NRL season netted him 12 tries, his equal best career record. So long as his forwards can keep New Zealand at bay, Cronk has the opportunity to take control and ensure the game is played on his terms.

Prediction

It’s been a while since New Zealand have been able to field as strong a side as the one they have named for Saturday’s match. While Australia possesses the classier backline, games are often won and lost in the middle, an area that plays to New Zealand’s strengths. Simply put they have an absolutely monstrous forward pack and if Australia’s forwards can’t contain them then it opens the opportunity up for Shaun Johnson to run riot. It should be a close game and a high quality one at that. I believe the Kiwis will power their way through to a victory and build some good form on their way to the Four Nations. Kiwis by 6+

Team Lists

Likely Australia line-up 
1 Darius Boyd
2 Valentine Holmes/Justin O’Neill
3 Greg Inglis
4 Josh Dugan
5 Blake Ferguson
6 Johnathan Thurston/James Maloney
7 Cooper Cronk
8 Matt Scott
9 Cameron Smith ©
10 Shannon Boyd
11 Boyd Cordner
12 Matt Gillett
13 Trent Merrin
Interchange
14 David Klemmer
15 Josh Papalii
16 Tyson Frizell
17 Sam Thaiday/Michael Morgan

Reserves: Matt Moylan, Jake Friend.

New Zealand
1 Jordan Kahu
2 Jason Nightingale
3 Solomone Kata
4 Shaun Kenny-Dowall
5 Jordan Rapana
6 Thomas Leuluai
7 Shaun Johnson
8 Jesse Bromwich ©
9 Issac Luke
10 Jared Waerea-Hargreaves
11 Kevin Proctor
12 Tohu Harris
13 Jason Taumalolo
Interchange
14 Lewis Brown
15 Martin Taupau
16 Manu Ma’u
17 Adam Blair

Reserves: Joseph Tapine, Gerard Beale