Off the back of the worst NRL season of his career, Adam Blair hopes Saturday's test can be the spring board for a much improved 2013.
Blair was the marquee signing for the Tigers heading into 2012 but struggled to adjust to the different style at the Sydney club and didn't deliver on the field.
As a result Blair, a former vice captain with 25 tests to his name, was initially left out of the Kiwis squad before gaining a reprieve when Jeremy Smith was a late injury withdrawal.
"It was disappointing," said Blair, "but with how I played this year I didn't think I deserved to be there in front of the guys that had played finals football. I find that I play well for my country and hopefully it is a stepping stone for next season for my club, as well as for the World Cup. I need to start stepping up and being better at club and Kiwis level."
His move to Leichhardt was not without controversy, as the Tigers let go of some popular forwards to make room for Blair. This heaped extra pressure on the 26-year-old, whose career had been on an steep upward trajectory since coming into the NRL in 2006, to be the man to add extra punch to the Tigers pack.
"[It was difficult] coming from a well structured club [like the Storm] to a place like the Tigers [where they have] different game plans and styles of play," said Blair. "I knew it was going to a challenge but it was harder than I thought it was going to be. I was trying to do the things that I used to do but it wasn't what the Tigers needed from me. I wanted to be the best player I could for the club and that wasn't happening."
Across the season Blair carried for just under 80 metres per match and averaged three missed tackles a week. It didn't help that Blair dropped a significant amount of weight, in an effort to remodel his game. After hovering near 110kg at the Storm, he presented as a lean 102kg as last season opened.
"I felt every bump and bruise and I was probably too light," said Blair. "I felt like I lost a bit of power and impact. I thought I got better as the year went on [but] by then it was too late."
Blair was hurt by his initial omission (Blair is part of the six leadership group and meant to be a near automatic selection) and it has showed this week. There has been an extra resolve at training, with team insiders noting the attitude shift.
The Whangarei-born Blair has been a key figure in some of the most memorable moments in recent years, including the 2008 World Cup triumph and the 2010 Four Nations victory and knows how tough it is to take down the Kangaroos.
"The only way to shut them out of the game is to build pressure," said Blair. "They are better than anyone else at building pressure. The more you can hold the ball and the more you can turn them around will only benefit us and that is one of the keys to beating them."
In previous Kiwi victories they have successfully rattled the Australians with heavy tackles and physical intimidation. With hard nuts like Jared Waerea-Hargreaves and Jeremy Smith out of the picture, is now the Kiwi's main enforcer?
"We have to do it as a team," said Blair. "Having one person doing things like doesn't work so hopefully we all do it together."
- APNZBy Michael Burgess Email Michael