League: How the Kiwis can win tonight

By Michael Brown

New Zealand are missing four of their best players heading into tonight's Anzac test. Photo / Getty Images
New Zealand are missing four of their best players heading into tonight's Anzac test. Photo / Getty Images

The bookmakers don't give them a chance (Australia are $1.12 favourites), history suggests it's fait accompli (the Kiwis haven't won the Anzac test since 1998) and New Zealand are missing four of their best players (SBW, Benji, Jeremy Smith and Sam Kasiano).

Rather than get too downcast, Michael Brown tries to find a handful of reasons why it's not all doom and gloom ahead of tonight's Anzac test.

THE CASE FOR

Plan for dummies
Cameron Smith is the undisputed master of the hooking role but Australia are wary of Issac Luke and have even picked a forward pack to help nullify his effectiveness. The Kiwis are fielding a four-prop rotation (Jesse Bromwich, Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, Ben Matulino and Sam McKendry) but Australia have picked a more mobile pack with only two recognised front rowers (Matt Scott and James Tamou). Sam Thaiday and Paul Gallen could both see time there. Luke scored in both tests against Australia last year, scooting out of dummy half, but it's not just the Souths rake coach Tim Sheens is mindful of. Sam Perrett, Jason Nightingale, Shaun Kenny-Dowall and Josh Hoffman are all noted dummy-half runners.

What they said
"Under the interpretation this year with no hands on the ball, no slowing the ruck down, I can see it being a quicker game and [Luke] just becomes more dangerous on that basis,'' Sheens said.

"He scored a try in both games last year from short range at dummy-half. Both times before the game we prepared not to let him do that, and yet he did.''

Big is good
There's no secret where New Zealand's strength lies. They have four big props who are all in good form and they will all be asked to run, run and run again into the Australian defence and then tackle, tackle and tackle them to the ground. International rules allow for 12 interchanges as opposed to the 10 in the NRL, meaning coach Stephen Kearney can give his big boys plenty of breaks. Waerea-Hargreaves and Matulino are both powerful runners and defenders and Bromwich has the ability to generate second-phase play.

What they said
"It's pretty obvious where our strength is,'' Kearney said. "We have some pretty big forwards who are in pretty good form at the minute and a dummy half who can trouble a defensive line if he's given an opportunity. That's not that much different to how we have played over the last few years.''

"Cameron is in line for 50-plus tackles down the middle,'' Sheens said. "They have a very strong forward pack and rotation and a hooker who is in career-best form so we know what to expect.''

Halves time
Benji Marshall has had a rough time of late. Not only did he get dumped as Kiwis captain in favour of Simon Mannering and then miss selection for the Anzac test because of a toe injury, but some are saying New Zealand are better off without the 28-year-old who inspired a generation of side-steppers. Marshall will return to the Kiwis squad for the World Cup, fitness permitting, but his absence gives Kearney the chance to evaluate a different halves combination with Kieran Foran slotting into his more accustomed position of five-eighth and Shaun Johnson playing at halfback. Marshall's absence will force others to step up, rather than wait for Benji to produce some magic like he did in the 2010 Four Nations final. Australia possess the best halves combination in the game in Cooper Cronk and Johnathan Thurston but there is some concern around what they would do if Thurston, in particular, had been injured. Cronulla's Todd Carney is also crocked and the next best five-eighths in the NRL are all foreigners in Foran, Marshall and England's Gareth Widdop.

What they said:
"Young Shaun probably takes up the Marshall-type game and we have played Kieran before and we know what to expect,'' Sheens said. "We have to pay attention to both halves. Shaun has reminded us a few times about his ability to grab you with something special - that speed, that show of the ball, his kick and chase - so we have to be strong defensively against both halves.''

THE CASE AGAINST
Billy Slater, Darius Boyd, Greg Inglis, Justin Hodges, Brett Morris, Johnathan Thurston, Cooper Cronk, Matthew Scott, Cameron Smith, James Tamou, Greg Bird, Sam Thaiday, Paul Gallen, Kurt Gidley, Nate Myles, Luke Lewis, Anthony Watmough... 'nuff said.

- APNZ

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