Kangaroo juggernaut a tough test for Kiwis in rugby league world cup final
New Zealand face daunting task against free-scoring Australians
New Zealand realise they face the ultimate test in their bid to defend the Rugby League World Cup title when they take on the might of a free-scoring, defence-strong Australian team on Saturday.
The Kiwis pipped England 20-18 in their nail-biting semi-final at Wembley thanks to a last-minute converted try from Shaun Johnson, in what was undoubtedly one of the best games of rugby league for many a year.
There was no such drama for the Kangaroos, who scored 11 tries in a 64-0 dismantling of an underpowered Fiji in their semi-final.
It was another remarkable result for the Australians, having now not conceded a try in four games since their opening 28-20 pool victory over England, who scored four tries of their own at the Millennium Stadium hit-out.
They are the first Australian team to keep a clean sheet of tries for four consecutive tests since the Max Krilich-captained side, scoring six straight from 1981-82.
Skipper Cameron Smith acknowledged that his team had been "embarrassed" by that performance in Cardiff and the focus in training had shifted to a more defence-orientated outlook to make sure it was not repeated.
"To have 20 points scored against us, that wasn't our standard and we wanted to be a lot better than that," Smith said.
"It's something we're very proud of and it's nice that we've done that up to now, but it's going to need an even bigger effort defensively this week."
The Australian defensive iron wall is but one piece in their artillery, however, the side having run up 210 unanswered points in the past four games in their bid for a 10th World Cup crown.
"We've put more time into our defence than our offence," coach Tim Sheens said. "Although we've scored quite a few points over the last few weeks, I still think our offence was off the pace a little. "We were better today again, but we're going to need to be better again."
The Kiwis have not been too shoddy, with half-back Johnson and hooker Issac Luke the main drivers of a team that features a hard-hitting pack complemented by the likes of code-swapping star Sonny Bill Williams.
Going into the semi-final against England, they had dispatched Samoa (42-24), France (48-0), Papua New Guinea (56-10) and Scotland (40-4).
"I was always confident that if we had the footy with a minute to go and we were down by four points, we had the ability to come up with something," said Kiwi coach Stephen Kearney of the dramatic finale against England.
"I was under the desk so I don't know," he added, when asked how he dealt with the late drama.