League: Kiwis full of confidence

New Zealand Kiwis Jesse Bromwich in action against Australia during last year's Anzac Day test. Photo / Brett Phibbs
New Zealand Kiwis Jesse Bromwich in action against Australia during last year's Anzac Day test. Photo / Brett Phibbs

For a side who haven't won the Anzac test since 1998 and are missing three of their biggest names, the Kiwis are still confident of upsetting a powerful Australia side in Canberra on Friday night.

Any team needs to go into a test confident but the Kiwis go into this one shorn of considerable firepower in Sonny Bill Williams, Benji Marshall (both injured) and Jeremy Smith (suspended) and bookmakers on both sides of the Tasman predict a regulation Australia win. They have installed them as overwhelming $1.14 favourites and given them a 16.5-point headstart.

The Kiwis drafted in Melbourne's Tohu Harris as a replacement for Smith, who faces four to six weeks on the sidelines after his tackle on Penrith's Matt Robinson, and the uncapped Harris has been named as 18th man.

It has seen coach Stephen Kearney shuffle his pack a little, with captain Simon Mannering slotting in at lock. It's the position he filled in last October's test against Australia and they feel the side will benefit from having their captain playing up the middle of the park, especially with Marshall missing and Shaun Johnson playing only his second test.

Jason Nightingale and Sam Perrett won the battle for the wings, meaning Roger Tuivasa-Sheck missed out.

Kiwis assistant coach Tony Iro said they would have preferred to have been able to call on Williams, Marshall and Smith but didn't think they were terribly weakened.

"We don't feel that in the team,'' Iro said. "They are big names but the guys are really confident in the players around them and the fact that each one can do the job. I think it's always a little bit different inside a team environment but they are very comfortable.

"I suppose in every test you're missing some names you would expect to be there. Obviously the names missing this time are rather big but you look at our side, it's one that has been picked on form. All in all, I think it's a nicely balanced squad.

"We know Australia are strong. We haven't beaten them in five tests but there hasn't been much between the sides. Close enough isn't good enough, we know that. These boys play against them every single week so they know what is coming. We just have to prepare as well as we can and improve on what we did in our last game. If we do that, we will go close to winning.''

The last three Anzac tests have been won by Australia by between four and 10 points and last year's Townsville test saw an eight-point margin. It shows the Kiwis have been close but they were also thumped 42-6 in October 2011.

New Zealand's last victory over the Kangaroos was the 2010 Four Nations final when they triumphed 16-12 in Brisbane.

Australia have a powerful lineup but are weary of New Zealand's four-prop rotation and the speed of hooker Issac Luke out of dummy half. It has prompted Australia coach Tim Sheens to plump for only two recognised props in Matt Scott and James Tamou, with Sam Thaiday and Paul Gallen likely to see minutes there as well.

Luke is a key figure and could be in line to play 80 minutes. Elijah Taylor, who started a handful of games at hooker for the Warriors this season, will slot in there if Luke needs a breather and also provides back-row backup.

Teams for Friday night's Anzac test rugby league international between New Zealand and Australia at Canberra Stadium (10.10pm NZT)

Kiwis: Josh Hoffman, Sam Perrett, Shaun Kenny-Dowall, Dean Whare, Jason Nightingale, Kieran Foran, Shaun Johnson, Jesse Bromwich, Issac Luke, Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, Frank Pritchard, Kevin Proctor, Simon Mannering (c). Interchange: Elijah Taylor, Sam McKendry, Ben Matulino, Alex Glenn. 18th man: Tohu Harris.

Australia: Billy Slater, Darius Boyd, Greg Inglis, Justin Hodges, Brett Morris, Johnathan Thurston. Cooper Cronk, Matt Scott, Cameron Smith (c), James Tamou, Greg Bird, Sam Thaiday, Paul Gallen. Interchange: Kurt Gidley, Luke Lewis, Nate Myles, Anthony Watmough. 18th man: Josh Morris.

- APNZ

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