The year: 1993. The venue Mt Smart Stadium.

The Kiwis had just drawn with the Kangaroos and our little press pack headed towards the dressing rooms for those riveting after-match interviews.

Kiwi manager Richard Bolton stepped in front of me: "You can't go in mate - you're banned."

As press colleagues trampled over the top of my defeated body, desperate for quotes, Bolton explained why.

I'd committed the cardinal sin of picking Australia to win the match, and in the process suggested that any optimism around the Kiwis' chances always tended to subside the moment the Kangaroo superstars started disembarking at Auckland Airport.

The Kiwis, in those days, were still an itinerant bunch gathered from the far reaches of league's little empire. Some were barely household names in their own street.

Twenty years on, the Kiwis are just about level pegging with Australia. Just about.

The league landscape has changed and Kiwis coach Steve Kearney has NRL first graders galore to choose from, to the point that the injury-enforced absence (again) of Roy Asotasi is not portrayed as a disaster.

Not everything has changed though.

The squads for Friday night's Anzac test are further evidence the Kiwis should never again have any concerns around the forward battle. If there are any differences, they are only marginal.

Apart from Cameron Smith, and there is only one Cameron Smith, the Kiwis can front up to Australia in this department. Attitude will hold sway in the trenches where characters like Jeremy Smith and Adam Blair are always up for the fight.

Frank "The Tank" Pritchard might be a surprise omission, but the guess here is that Kearney knows Australia tends to have a higher workrate capacity in the forwards and he can't concede too much in that department.

Fuifui Moimoi has been earmarked for the do-or-die blockbuster spot, so Pritchard misses out.

So does the fiery Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, a disappointment because his old-style test attitude should be an integral part of Kearney's Kiwis.

Ben Matulino has shone in the big hits department for the Warriors this year so might fill that Waerea-Hargreaves-style impact role.

Unfortunately, without the injured Manu Vatuvei the Kiwis don't quite match Australia's firepower in the backs.

Benji Marshall could turn that situation around of course, and the Kieran Foran/Marshall halves combo is the Kiwis' best for a long time, perhaps ever.

Other areas of slight hope: Greg Inglis is not in his best opponent-trampling form, Billy Slater has had the odd test hiccup, Darren Lockyer is on older legs and Johnathan Thurston is a mystery compared to his true potential.

Still, the Australian backs have a small but clear edge.

Smith, Thurston, Lockyer and Slater might dominate the pre-match thinking, but the player to fear - to my mind - is the Brisbane centre Justin Hodges.

Hodges' injuries allied to dramas around other similar players such as Inglis and Israel Folau have obscured his status. Hodges is a class act and central to Brisbane's resurgence. His loping runs can be devastating.

By comparison in the backs, the likely Kiwi No 1, Lance Hohaia, may have scuttled a long way in the NRL this year but he is still a marginal test fullback.

For all of his worth, Simon Mannering - who looks set for the centres - is a converted back rower and nowhere near the Hodges/Inglis class. Mannering is very strong and safe, and has the odd surprisingly nifty move but he is not a classic athlete.

Conclusion: Manly centre Steve "Mayhem" Matai is on the permanent outer which will save the Kangaroos a few headaches, literally.

The Kiwis have put a serious ding in Australia's aura of invincibility over the past few years by winning the big matches. They have an awful early season test record, but Friday night's clash shapes as a close battle.

The Kiwis are world champions, yet remain the slight underdogs because of Smith's relentless influence at dummy half and the match-ups in the backs.

* League is rarely caught short of superlatives.

I struggled to find any though after watching Penrith's visit to Mt Smart Stadium on Sunday.

The Stink Panthers were awful. Dreadful. I haven't seen a more lifeless and lateral attack since Ricky Stuart was coaching, apparently, the Cronulla Sharks.

The visitors, in the middle of a coaching crisis, appeared distracted.

The bottom line is the Warriors should have slaughtered opponents in such disarray. They didn't.

Even the erratic Warriors sides of old could roast a lame duck.

Wins over the Storm and Penrith have dug the Warriors out of an early season hole, and you can't sneeze at any win in Melbourne.

But the Warriors have had the bounce of the ball in both games. They still don't look like title challengers.