League: Kiwis aim to keep emotions in check

By Michael Brown

The Kiwis are optimistic wingers Roger Tuivasa-Sheck (leg) will be fit to play Sunday morning's Rugby League World Cup final. Photo / Getty
The Kiwis are optimistic wingers Roger Tuivasa-Sheck (leg) will be fit to play Sunday morning's Rugby League World Cup final. Photo / Getty

There's a fine line between being pumped up and too emotional for a big game and the Kiwis think they got it wrong in last weekend's semifinal against England.

New Zealand gave away some silly penalties and made simple errors at crucial times which nearly proved costly - they needed a late matchwinner from Shaun Johnson to win 20-18 - and they know they can't afford to do it in the World Cup final against Australia at Old Trafford on Sunday morning (NZT).

At one stage in the second half, England had possession for 13 out of 15 sets as they took the initiative in the game before the Kiwis came through with some late heroics.

Australia were ruthlessly efficient in their 64-0 hammering of Fiji in their semifinal and are stacked with players used to appearing on the big stage.

"We were probably a little bit emotional on the weekend," assistant coach Ivan Cleary said. "There's nothing wrong with being emotional but it probably got the better of us a little bit. That leads to errors which we have to minimise [for the final]. The boys will be very pumped for the game, no doubt about that, because it's not often you get a chance to play in a World Cup final.

"It's just about controlling your emotions. The players came up with that observation themselves. You need to have some emotion because it's going to be a great occasion but we just want to make sure we keep that in check and we aren't giving the Australians any leg-ups because they are too good to be giving any sort of advantage."

Austrlalia will also be buoyed by the likely return of Billy Slater. The Melbourne fullback has made a speedy recovery from the knee injury he picked up in their quarter-final against the US and they are confident he will be fine to play the Kiwis.

They didn't lose a lot, if anything at all, with Greg Inglis slotting in at the back but Inglis would provide more strikepower in the centres where he would come up against Sonny Bill Williams and Dean Whare on New Zealand's right edge. Brent Tate would drop out of the starting side to accommodate Inglis.

The Kiwis are optimistic wingers Roger Tuivasa-Sheck (leg) and Manu Vatuvei (groin) will be fit to play. Tuivasa-Sheck trained lightly overnight (NZT) and will test it more fully tomorrow and Vatuvei joined in with the main squad towards the end of the session.

Prop Jared Waerea-Hargreaves didn't complete training after straining his neck but Cleary said he will play. Frank-Paul Nu'uausala has a calf haematoma but should also be fine.

The biggest concern is over Frank Pritchard (hamstring) who did only light training.
"All the guys who didn't train today all went better than expected," Cleary said. "Tomorrow is the big day but they are coming along nicely.

"I'm very optimistic [they will play]. Frank Pritchard is probably behind the others at this stage."

The Kiwis need everything to go right this week to have a chance against Australia and it's why they are underdogs with the bookies this weekend. They will have most of the 70,000-strong crowd on their side but, as Cleary said, "It's the boys out on the field who are going to win us the game and not the people in the stands".

"When you play against a team like the Aussies, you know they have great players in every position and are as formidable as any opponent you are ever going to face," he said. "It's more a case of if we don't perform to our best then we have next-to-no chance.

"What we have been building over the last six weeks has been about hopefully getting to this point and we now have that opportunity. It's now about making sure we produce our best on Saturday. If we do that, we give ourselves a chance."

- APNZ

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