Kangaroos captain Darren Lockyer will anoint the Kiwis as the No 1 team in rugby league if they produce another Brisbane boilover at Suncorp Stadium here tonight (9.45pm NZT).
And after the week's buildup they've had, no one would begrudge the Kiwis that title as the previously dominant Kangaroos eye redemption for the World Cup final six months ago.
That 34-20 victory might have given the Kiwis plenty of self-belief, but the bookmakers believe it won't translate into two-in-a-row.
Australia's TAB Sportsbet had the Kangaroos in familiar territory, $1.28 favourites to the Kiwis' $3.50.
That was before key back-rower Jeremy Smith (sprained ankle) was ruled out at training last night, the third Kiwi to bite the dust this week after hooker Issac Luke (suspended) and second-rower Frank Pritchard (neck).
A reshuffle by Kiwis coach Steve Kearney saw Simon Mannering move from centre to Smith's No 13 jersey, Iosia Soliola from the bench to centre, and impact forward Sika Manu onto the bench.
Lockyer, whose star fullback Billy Slater (ankle) was leaving a final call on his fitness until today, said tonight was winner-take-all as his side cling to the top ranking.
"They'll be out to prove that last year wasn't a fluke. If they've beaten us two times then you'd have to say we can't claim to be No 1," Lockyer said.
"We've been dominant over the years but in the last few years they've won a couple of big games (2005 Tri-Nations final and World Cup). If we were to lose I can't see how we'd be No 1. " Kearney played it low key at his final press conference where he fronted solo after telling captain Benji Marshall not to attend, seemingly to keep the pressure off his prized asset.
The coach played down the disrupted buildup, which saw Dene Halatau named to replace Luke 48 hours before kickoff, and said the winning formula hadn't changed.
"When you play Australia you have to get a lot of things right and the ball has to bounce your way a couple of times. That's the same approach here. " With Marshall their go-to man, the key for the Kiwis will be again to rattle Lockyer and fellow playmaker Johnathan Thurston, tackle themselves to a standstill and disrupt the flow of ball to the Kangaroos' dangermen out wide.
Veteran coach Tim Sheens takes over the Kangaroos trying to maintain a proud record of every Australian coach since 1973 winning their first game in charge.
Sheens said flashy wouldn't win it for the hosts, having identified the World Cup flaws.
"They'd played well individually, but when the Kiwis stood up a got a bit more aggressive and put us off our game, and things didn't work like the cross kick, and Billy Slater didn't make his usual 10 breaks, so they struggled a bit and got rattled," Sheens said.
"We've got to be prepared to get into the grind with them a bit more. "
- NZPABy Mark Geenty