Michael Burgess is a sports writer for the Herald on Sunday.

NRL: Five keys to getting the better of Kangaroos

Shaun Johnson is the only Kiwi able to match the Kangaroos'  long-range kicking abilities. Picture / Photosport
Shaun Johnson is the only Kiwi able to match the Kangaroos' long-range kicking abilities. Picture / Photosport

The Kiwis are looking for their fourth win in their last five encounters with the Kangaroos tonight. Michael Burgess looks at the key factors to a New Zealand victory.

1: Kicking game

Just like apathy around Auckland mayoral elections and rainy Octobers, the Kangaroos' superior kicking game has been a truism for time immemorial. From the days of Wally Lewis, to Ricky Stuart and Andrew Johns, the Australians have always had the capacity to reel off swathes of territory with one judicious swing of the boot.

Cooper Cronk, Johnathan Thurston and Cameron Smith will give the home side the edge again tonight, with only Shaun Johnson able to match their long-range kicking abilities. The Kiwis will need to be smart, using Issac Luke punts occasionally from dummy half to take the pressure off Johnson, and hope their pack can make up any territorial deficit.

2: Defensive effort

In their last four wins over Australia, dating back to the 2010 Four Nations final, the Kiwis have held their opponents to 16 points or less (an average of 13.5). It's a critical factor in Perth; it's almost impossible to top the Kangaroos in a match that becomes a points scoring bonanza, so New Zealand need to keep things tight and take their chances when they come.

The absence of Simon Mannering will hurt in this area - the Kiwis have only won one of their last four tests without him - and the likes of Tohu Harris, Kevin Proctor and Adam Blair will need to pick up the slack.

3: Back five

While the focus is on the Kiwis pack, the performance of the back five is also paramount to tonight's outcome. The first three carries off a kick return have become vital in the modern game, establishing the tone for the set.

"If we can stop their back five momentum it means that guys like Jason [Taumalolo] and Jesse Bromwich aren't coming off the back fence and are getting us one on one," said Kangaroos prop Matt Scott earlier this week.

The Kangaroos were clearly superior in that area in the Anzac test, with the power and size of Semi Radradra, Greg Inglis and Blake Ferguson making it difficult for the Kiwis to get any defensive dominance.

New Zealand also struggled when bringing the ball out of their own territory, with the lighter frames of Jordan Kahu, Gerard Beale and Jason Nightingale regularly getting driven back. Australian maintains a size advantage tonight - Shaun Kenny-Dowall is the only Kiwi back who tips the scales at more than 100kg, whereas the Kangaroos have three - but it is not as pronounced as at Newcastle.

4: No dummies at hooker

The performances of Luke and Lewis Brown at hooker will be vital. The Kiwis lacked creativity and spark out of dummy half in May, giving their attack a predictable look. It meant the Kangaroos defenders were able to zero in on the Australian ball runners, and also put extra pressure on Johnson.

The recalled Luke has a lot to prove but his pedigree suggests he can deliver.

5: Attack the channels

The Kangaroos don't have many obvious weaknesses, but one area to exploit will be the channels on the outside edges. If they can isolate Thurston and Cronk defensively, and send plenty of traffic their way, it could be a profitable night for the Kiwis.

- NZ Herald

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