Rugby League World Cup: Australia v New Zealand preview

Last Updated: 30/11/13 10:10am

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Australia and New Zealand will go head-to-head for the third successive Rugby League World Cup final on Saturday - and there will be a full house at Old Trafford to see them do it.

Back in 2000 the trans-Tasman rivals clashed at the same venue in Manchester, with the Kangaroos emphatically taking the honours courtesy of a 40-12 triumph.

"We need 17 players to play their best footy to beat this Kiwi side, they've got strike power all over the park and can score tries from anywhere, so no doubt we need everyone to play their best football to win this World Cup."
Jonathan Thurston

However, the Kiwis got their revenge eight years later in Brisbane, beating Australia 34-20 as they turned around a half-time deficit at Suncorp Stadium to cause a huge upset and lift the trophy for the first time in their history.

Plenty of players from both sides will be in action again this weekend, though Billy Slater may yet miss out on the chance to play in a second straight final due to a knee injury.

The Melbourne Storm full-back missed the semi-final win over Fiji and will be desperate to feature after making a costly error five years ago that gifted a try to then New Zealand skipper Benji Marshall.

"From what I saw on the pitch, he's looking the goods," Australia team-mate Jonathan Thurston said of Slater. "Obviously he's had the week off so he'll be fresh and ready to play.

"He's such a professional with the way he prepares and looks after his body, I think he'll be right to play and he won't have any demons from the last World Cup. He tackles everything front on."

If Slater is deemed fit to play, Tim Sheens will shift Greg Inglis back into the centres at the expense of Brent Tate, though he could yet get a place on the bench ahead of young forward Josh Papalii.

Fitness concerns

New Zealand have had fitness concerns of their own in the build-up to the big match, but both Manu Vatuvei and Roger Tuivasa-Sheck have been cleared to start on the wings.

Tuivasa-Sheck played a starring role in the 20-18 victory over England that booked the Kiwis a trip to Manchester, grabbing a brace of tries, yet it was half-back Shaun Johnson who was the hero when his last-gasp score broke the home side's hearts at Wembley.

Thurston and his colleagues know all about their opponents considering they face each other on a weekly basis in the NRL - indeed, the only Super League interest on the pitch will be referee Richard Silverwood.

"When you think about it, it's very exciting to be able to play at a ground with so much history and a World Cup final, it's going to be a memory the boys will never forget," said Thurston, who needs just six more points to break Mick Cronin's international record of 309.

"Obviously nothing we've done in the past matters anymore, it's about what we do tomorrow at this ground.

"We need 17 players to play their best footy to beat this Kiwi side, they've got strike power all over the park and can score tries from anywhere, so no doubt we need everyone to play their best football to win this World Cup."

The match will see at least one record broken - with ticket sales topping 74,000, it will be watched by the largest crowd in the history of international rugby league.

Australia: B Slater; B Morris, J Hayne, G Inglis, D Boyd; J Thurston, C Cronk; M Scott, C Smith (capt), J Tamou, G Bird, S Thaiday, P Gallen.

Subs: D Cherry-Evans, A Fifita, C Parker, J Papalii or B Tate.

New Zealand: K Locke; R Tuivasa-Sheck, D Whare, B Goodwin, M Vatuvei; K Foran, S Johnson; J Waerea-Hargreaves, I Luke, J Bromwich, S Mannnering (capt), S B Williams, E Taylor.

Subs: A Glenn, S Kasiano, B Matulino, F-P Nu'uausala.

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