Rugby League: Kiwis maintain belief ahead of final

By Michael Burgess in Liverpool

Kiwis forward Adam Blair said winning a Four Nations title is realistic. Photo / Photosport
Kiwis forward Adam Blair said winning a Four Nations title is realistic. Photo / Photosport

If there is a word that has summed up the Kiwis camp this week, it's belief.

As unlikely as it sounds, every player you talk to has spoken of the genuine feeling that they can cause a major upset at Anfield tomorrow, and retain their Four Nations crown.

There's some residual anger over their Scotland performance, and an expectation that their best is yet to come at this tournament.

But cold, hard sporting logic says they have little chance. The Kangaroos have more experience, more weapons and better combinations. They are missing few of their first choice players, compared with the likes of Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, Kieran Foran, Simon Mannering, Dean Whare and Thomas Leuluai for the Kiwis. Australia has four or five genuine play makers, while Shaun Johnson has a makeshift No6 beside him. The Kangaroos have a superior kicking game and better goal kickers. And they seem to thrive in English conditions.

So is even contemplating a victory realistic?

"100 per cent - of course," said Adam Blair. "This [week] kind of takes me back to the 2008 World Cup. Previous history said we hadn't won a World Cup in a long time and they wrote us off early. The Aussies smashed us early in the tournament and in the final week it was the same thing."

The Kiwis lost 30-6 to the Kangaroos in the group stages of that tournament and were at long odds for the decider, but Blair recalls the internal momentum building.

"Right from the Monday the belief was strong - and you could feel it and I just knew it was going to be a good feeling," said Blair. "From the moment we kicked off I could tell something was going to happen."

There are differences, especially as the 2008 team had a core of experienced men that this team doesn't have. But the principles remain the same.

"I think we just have to believe," said Blair. "Belief firstly that we can win the game, and that everybody is going to do their job. It is just making sure that each and every individual believes in what we are doing. We can't have anyone thinking that we can't win."

Most importantly, the Kiwis have to find an 80 minute performance. It's something they've only managed twice in the last nine tests (2015 Anzac test and second test vs England last year) and the critical success factor.

"We have to be on for the whole game," said captain Jesse Bromwich. "To match Australia that is what you have to do. They will keep coming at us and we have to match that effort."

A Kiwis win tomorrow would be a major surprise, but it wouldn't compare to some other New Zealand upsets of the modern era. The 1987 win at Lang Park by Tony Gordon's team and the victory in Melbourne four years later under Bob Bailey were much more seismic shocks, as was the memorable victory in Sydney in 2005 by Brian McClennan's depleted side.

Rain, hail and sleet have hit Liverpool over the last 24 hours but the weather is expected to clear for the match on Sunday afternoon (Monday NZT), with a brisk temperature of six degrees Celsius expected for the afternoon clash.

Autex - Proud sponsors of New Zealand rugby league since 1981

- Herald on Sunday

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