League: Established combinations the key for Australia

Benji Marshall of the Kiwis. Photo / Getty Images
Benji Marshall of the Kiwis. Photo / Getty Images

When looking for answers to why New Zealand have failed to win an Anzac test over the last 14 years, it's hard to ignore the words state and origin.

The Kiwis might have assembled one of the strongest sides in recent history to face Australia at Eden Park on Friday night but they have little time to sort out combinations and tactics with only two training runs together.

It's the same for the Kangaroos, but they have the luxury of slotting in 10 of the Queensland State of Origin side, including six of the seven in the backline.

On top of that, their spine is principally made up of Melbourne players with Cameron Smith at hooker, Cooper Cronk at halfback and Billy Slater fullback. The fourth is Johnathan Thurston, who will suit up at five-eighth in place of retired playmaker Darren Lockyer, and he's played 22 tests and 21 Origin matches for Queensland.

In comparison, the Kiwis have an exciting foursome in the key positions but two - Josh Hoffman (fullback) and Shaun Johnson (halfback) - will be making their debuts.

The Kangaroos have been described as being like a Rolls Royce; turn the keys and they purr into action. It's why they do well in one-off matches and it's no coincidence the Kiwis perform better in a tournament when they have time together.

"We have got some good combinations and have played a bit of football together over the past few years," Slater said.

"We have not just played a lot together for Queensland but we have played a lot together for Australia as well. We have got some good combinations but it's about our attitude and getting out there and starting really well. We are hoping to start tough and earn the right to use those combinations and throw the ball around."

The Kiwis have picked a side they hope can contain that, with plenty of emphasis on defence, but senior players also met in Sydney twice recently to discuss how they could combat Australia's effectiveness. They are patently aware they haven't won the Anzac test since 1998 and Australia have a massive advantage with established combinations.

"We are never going to replicate the advantage the Australians have in that area," Kiwis assistant coach Tony Iro said. "Their three main players play together at club level as well. In terms of that, we just have to do our best and make sure we do as much as we can before the week.

"We had a couple of meetings with our senior group in Sydney about how we want to play the game. They have taken a bit more ownership in terms of leading the team around the park and how they want to play football.

"There are a few little unknowns for us that the Australians probably don't have to encounter but we are confident that Benji [Marshall] and the senior boys can execute a game plan that they have basically come up with."

- NZ Herald

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