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Comment: Four Nations final will not be a Kiwi heist

The Roar The Roar 17/11/2016 Greg Prichard

Isaac Luke's performances in this year's Four Nations have rarely matched the passion of his haka. © Anna Gowthorpe/Press Association Isaac Luke's performances in this year's Four Nations have rarely matched the passion of his haka. Some people will say New Zealand have got Australia right where they want them going into the Four Nations final. I’m not joining that group.

Sure, we’ve seen it before. The Kiwis make the final of a tournament after looking inferior to the Aussies along the way and then go out and beat them. The 2008 World Cup is a prime example.

To be fair to New Zealand, they’ve also shown they can dominate a tournament over Australia from start to finish, as they did in the 2014 Four Nations.

You could make the point the Aussies were missing a lot of star players through injury in 2014, which they were. But they weren’t in 2008, so what was the excuse then?

There is always at least a hint of danger from the Kiwis – particularly in tournaments, where they get the chance to build up over several weeks of competition.

They need that against an Australian team that is naturally more in tune to meet the challenge of the biggest clashes because they have the advantage of playing a three-game State of Origin series mid-season.

The Aussies not only become battle hardened in the ferocious Origin arena, they also get the chance to build combinations that are then transferred to the international stage.

Seriously, how big an advantage is it to Australia that their spine of fullback Darius Boyd, five-eighth Johnathan Thurston, halfback Cooper Cronk and hooker Cameron Smith is also the Queensland spine?

It’s huge.

But, given even luck to the two teams, I can’t see any circumstances in which the Kiwis can win the game at Anfield in the early hours of Monday, our time.

I think Australia would have to get into extraordinary injury difficulty, or have a player sent off a long way short of fulltime, for the Kiwis to win.

The Aussies have taken a different tack in this tournament, under Mal Meninga as coach.

They haven’t made a point of trying to be absolutely dominant from the start. They have built up to the final and are poised to produce their best performance of the tournament in it.

New Zealand have stumbled into the final. Their 18-18 draw with Scotland last weekend was embarrassing to them.

Had Scotland managed to win, the Kiwis wouldn’t even be in the final. They would have finished on two points, the same as England, and the Poms would have made the final based on their superior points for-and-against differential.

Meninga rested Cronk from the game against the Kiwis in week two of the tournament, when Australia won 14-8.

New Zealand five-eighth Thomas Leuluai sustained a broken jaw against Scotland and won’t play in the final.

New Zealand coach David Kidwell told a media conference this week that he was yet to decide who would play five-eighth.

“Short answer, no,” he said. “We’ve got a couple of options and a couple of training sessions to decide, but whoever comes in there, we’ll have full confidence that they’ll do the job.”

I’d be stunned if Kidwell put the vastly inexperienced Te Maire Martin at five-eighth. Surely he will switch second-rower Tohu Harris to that position.

Kidwell is only new to the New Zealand job, but he must already be at risk of losing it based on the disappointing performances of the Kiwis in the Test against Australia in Perth in October and overall in this tournament.

If he played Martin and the youngster came undone in a heavy defeat, his tenure as coach could be over there and then. Harris appeals as the much less risky option and the far more sensible one.

Finally, you can’t write about the final without mentioning New Zealand halfback Shaun Johnson.

He’s a great player on his day, but while he might have some break-out moments this is not going to be a game in which he tears the Aussies apart.

Not this Australian team. They’ll restrict him enough and take the Four Nations trophy back.

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