Kangaroos out for revenge over Kiwis in final at Old Trafford
Australia face defending champions who will be tough to beat with star Sonny Bill hoping to be first to snag World Cups in union and league
Australia will be gunning for revenge when they clash with defending champions and trans-Tasman rivals New Zealand in the Rugby League World Cup final at Old Trafford on Saturday.
The Kiwis won the last World Cup in 2008 with a shock 34-20 victory in Brisbane over the Kangaroos, who have dominated the 13-man code having won nine previous editions.
New Zealand are defending Four Nations champions after also beating Australia in Brisbane. But those two victories are the Kiwis' sole successes in five years of competition between the Anzac rivals.
Kiwi coach Stephen Kearney was more than happy to accept that the Kangaroos, who have not conceded a single try in their four matches since their opening 28-20 pool win over England, were favourites.
"We do start as underdogs, but the lads are confident that, if they can bring their best performance, we give ourselves a great opportunity," he said.
There are only three players who appeared in the 2008 final: captain Simon Mannering, hooker Issac Luke, and veteran winger Manu Vatuvei, the latter named by Kearney in his initial 19-man squad, but still an injury doubt.
The Kiwi squad, however, can call on undoubtedly the player of the tournament so far, Shaun Johnson, who has filled a half-back spot left vacant by the union-bound Benji Marshall, and also media darling Sonny Bill Williams.
Williams was this week crowned international player of the season, quite a feat for the second-rower after a five-year spell away from league winning 19 All Blacks caps and a union World Cup.
He also become New Zealand's professional heavyweight boxing champion.
Should he be on the winning side today, Williams would become the first player to win the World Cup in both rugby codes. "I'd give every award back in a heartbeat just to get across the line this weekend," insisted the Sydney Roosters star, while his talent has obviously not gone unnoticed by Australia.
Kangaroos coach Tim Sheens acknowledged that Williams was "a special player" and someone whose media draw was nothing but beneficial for the code.
"He certainly had an influence in the England game and almost most games he plays in," Sheens said.
"It's good for our game and for our code around the world because he's known over here and I think he's well known as a rugby player in France, too, so it's been good for the code over here and playing in this tournament."
Sheens is hoping star full back Billy Slater will be fit today after aggravating a knee injury in the quarter-final win over the United States, with Greg Inglis a more than adequate deputy should he not be available.
There was disappointment in the Kiwi camp, however, when second-rower Frank Pritchard missed the cut because of a hamstring injury.
"He'd love to play, and we'd love to have him there, but the stakes are as high as they get this weekend and he's not 100 per cent," said Kearney.
Kearney named three wingers in his prematch squad of 19, which will be trimmed to 17 just before the kick-off at Manchester United's Old Trafford stadium.
Veteran Jason Nightingale has been joined by Vatuvei and the tournament's highest try-scorer Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, who both had injury concerns earlier this week.