Jarryd Hayne says this year's New Zealand side could be the Kiwis' best ever. Credit: SWpix.com Copyright: SWpix.com
The current New Zealand side could be their best ever, but the Aussies won't be blaming a soft lead-up if they don't emerge as World Cup winners, according to star Kangaroos centre Jarryd Hayne.
Hayne said the current Kiwis outfit, who will be playing to defend their World Cup title on Saturday (Sunday morning Australian time), has threats right across the park.
"Everywhere you look they're a balanced team. Their right edge is great – Dean Whare and Roger Tuivasa-Sheck on that edge, then potentially Manu Vatuvei and Bryson Goodwin on the other side," Hayne told NRL.com.
"Plus their forward pack speaks for itself so I think their whole team is balanced, their whole team can hurt you if you don't switch on and play some good footy. I think it's the best team I've ever seen New Zealand have and it should be a good final."
Much has been made of the Kangaroos' less-than-challenging run to the World Cup final, having won their past four games by a combined total of 210-2 – including their two finals games against the USA and Fiji by a margin of 126-nil.
However a lack of close footy doesn't concern Hayne, who said a successful focus on defence over the course of the tournament showed how well the side was gelling.
"New Zealand had a tough game [with their 20-18 semi-final win over England], but it's one of those things you could look at as being favourable for us, keeping a team tryless for the fourth time, and we pride ourselves on that," he said.
"It's something that we achieved, we can't do anything about it [the quality of opposition]. The title's on Saturday so there's no excuses from us."
Question marks had been placed over how Hayne would deal with the move in to the less familiar right centre position, especially in terms of defence – after spending the majority of his NRL career at fullback and most of his representative career on the wing – but he said he is happy with how he has managed the transition.
"Yeah mate it's pretty exciting you know, I haven't played there [at centre] for a while but I'm definitely comfortable playing there, it's been good," he said.
"I always knew it would take a couple of games. I played five-eighth for a couple of years as well, so [the defensive workload] wasn't something that I was uncomfortable with. I knew it was going to take a couple of games to get used to and I've done that so it's all good."
The statistics highlights Hayne's contribution in defence – he was the top or equal-top tackler among the Australian back five in both of his starts in the centres, with a total of 24 tackles made and just one missed.
His attacking stats over those two games make even more impressive reading: seven tries, three try assists, 18 tackle breaks, eight line breaks, one line break assist, 329 metres and zero errors.
Hayne said a key to his attacking form had been earning the confidence of playmaker Cooper Cronk to get him some early ball.
"Every week, playing with Cooper on my inside I've just gotten better and better, just giving him confidence to give me the ball early and let me do work. I think the last game I got plenty of early ball, and the game before that," he said.
With the team yet to be announced it is possible incumbent fullback Billy Slater could make a surprise return from injury, which would likely force Greg Inglis back to the centres – probably at the expense of the unlucky Brent Tate, given Hayne's explosive recent form there. However Hayne was unsurprisingly reluctant to speculate.
"I guess if Billy's fit he'll be back, we probably won't know til later on in the week. The boys that are in contention, we just need to train well and focus on what we need to focus on," he said.