Rugby League: Kiwis gearing up for Old Trafford showdown

By Michael Brown of APNZ in Manchester

Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, Simon Mannering, Jesse Bromwich and Alex Glenn train at the rugby league World Cup. Photo / Getty Images
Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, Simon Mannering, Jesse Bromwich and Alex Glenn train at the rugby league World Cup. Photo / Getty Images

When the Kiwis went to Old Trafford to watch Manchester United take on Arsenal three weeks ago, it was only natural for them to all think about the next time they might venture to the iconic venue.

It almost nearly didn't happen, with England only seconds away from a famous victory and a place in Sunday morning's (NZT) rugby league World Cup final against Australia at Old Trafford.

The Kiwis relocated to Manchester from London overnight (NZT) and will step up their preparations for the final after a couple of days of recovery.

Most will try to treat it as a normal week even though it is anything but. Some will approach it in the same manner as the NRL grand final, embracing the pressure and occasion.

"I think playing in a grand final of a World Cup will definitely be the biggest game of my career," said prop Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, who won the NRL title with the Roosters this year.

"You're playing for your country, your family.

"Every individual has to play the best game they have ever played [to win]. It's going to be tough. I think all our boys are going to be ready."

They will have three training sessions before the final and will also attend the gala International Player of the Year awards on Thursday morning (NZT) before the team to play Australia is announced the following day.

There's still a fair degree of uncertainty about the makeup of the Kiwis side because of injuries to key players.

Roger Tuivasa-Sheck was cleared of a leg fracture, which means the New Zealand medical staff could be more aggressive with their treatment, but the winger is still in some discomfort.

Fellow winger Manu Vatuvei is also still struggling with a groin strain, although he has been running more freely, and second-rower Frank Pritchard is not yet over the hamstring strain that saw him miss the semifinal with England.

Wednesday's training session looms as crucial and the time when all three will need to show they have the potential of playing against Australia.

"There's no break with Roger but it will be another 24 hours before we know if he's a decent chance," Kiwis manager Tony Iro said.

"Manu has been running fairly freely but there's a big difference between running in a straight line and into six blokes like he usually does. We will give him every opportunity but he will probably have to do something fairly physical and aggressive on Wednesday and we will take our read from that.

"Frank is probably the biggest concern. He's probably still 50-50. He's saying he's a lot better but he will be another who will need an aggressive session on Wednesday.

"It would be great to have all three. They are all in good form - Frank and Manu have been in great form and Roger has probably been the winger of the tournament so far.

"They would certainly be handy to have because there's a fair amount of strike power there. But if they're not available, there are guys who can do the job."

Jason Nightingale would retain his spot if either or both Vatuvei and Tuivasa-Sheck don't recover in time. Josh Hoffman and Krisnan Inu would come into contention on the wing if Vatuvei and Tuivasa-Sheck are both ruled out.

Alex Glenn replaced Pritchard for the England match and remains the most likely option if Pritchard is unfit to play this time around, too.

- APNZ

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