Rugby League: No longer advance Australian fear for Kiwis

By Michael Burgess in Birmingham

Shaun Johnson celebrates the Kiwis Four Nations final win over Australia in 2015. Photosport
Shaun Johnson celebrates the Kiwis Four Nations final win over Australia in 2015. Photosport

For the Kiwis, there is no longer advance Australian fear.

That has been the biggest change over the last two years of trans-tasman league rivalry.

The Kiwis know that the Kangaroos, with their well-oiled combinations and greater depth, are a formidable outfit, and will still be favoured to triumph in Sunday's (NZT) Four Nations clash.

They realise that Australia have rebuilt this year under their new coaching regime, headed by Mal Meninga, and that it will need a herculean effort to topple them in Coventry.

But they also know how to beat Australia, what it takes to lower the green and golds.

The Kangaroos are no longer mythical creatures, "ten feet tall and bulletproof" as former Kiwis coach Graham Lowe used to joke in the 1980s. But that hasn't always been the case.

Up until a few years ago, there was a whole generation of players who had never beaten Australia. At the start of the last Four Nations tournament (2014) men like Shaun Johnson, Jesse Bromwich, Kevin Proctor, Lewis Brown, Gerard Beale, Dean Whare and Kieran Foran had only known the bitter feeling of defeat in trans tasman matches.

They could talk about beating Australia and be genuine in their belief - but until you actually do it - like a steep hill start, a half marathon or a best man's speech - it's hard to imagine what it actually takes.

That's all changed now, with the three game winning streak between October 2014 and May 2105 showing what is possible.

The tide may not yet be completely turning, but the gap is definitely closing.

After recording a solitary win in ten tests against the Kangaroos from 2010-2013, the Kiwis have won 50 percent of the clashes since 2014.

Topping Australia is still a complicated equation - everything has to click for the Kiwis, as well as some luck go their way - but it is no longer an against the odds, Rocky Balboa type scenario.

"At this level any team is beatable," said Kiwis winger Jordan Rapana. "You have to give Australia respect; they are definitely a quality side, if not the best team in the world with the players that they have."

"But with the confidence that we have amongst our boys, we believe that we can beat them. We need to make sure we do our homework, address what we need to focus on and prepare well. Then bring our best games."

Rapana excelled last Sunday against England with two well taken tries, but he is part of a right edge that still has question marks over it. Shaun Johnson, Shaun Kenny-Dowall and Rapana have struggled to gel defensively as a unit and will again be targeted by the Australians on Sunday (9am NZT)

"We were a bit rusty on our defence in Perth," said Rapana. "We need to step up in that area and make sure there is no tries coming down our edge."

- NZ Herald

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