New Zealand back-rower Frank Pritchard says the Kiwis have been guilty of showing Australia too much respect in the past as they look to end a 15-year hoodoo with victory over their traditional rivals in Friday night’s Anzac Test in Canberra.
Not since a 22-16 win at North Harbour Stadium in Auckland in 1998 has New Zealand enjoyed success in the annual mid-season clash and with Benji Marshall, Sonny Bill Williams and Jeremy Smith all unavailable through injury and suspension they face another tough task against a full-strength Kangaroos line-up.
But Pritchard said it was time the Kiwis finally took the game up to their trans-Tasman neighbours.
“We’ve always trained hard during the week but I know it’s been a long time since we won an Anzac Test against them,” the 29-year-old told NRL.com. “I think it comes down to desire. For all the boys it’s about passion and wanting it more.
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“Over the years we’ve gone into these Tests showing a bit too much respect to the Aussies. Obviously Australia always sets the bar in rugby league. We know that we’re behind them but it’s up to us to lift on these occasions. Everyone talks about the Tri-Nations and us needing a longer series to win games against them but it’s these one-off games where we need to set the bar as well.”
Pritchard said the Kiwis needed to stop worrying about Australia – which they’ve been guilty of in the past – and start focusing on themselves.
“That’s been our problem,” he said. “We’ve got the team to match them but it’s up to us to believe in ourselves. We’ve got to play for the whole 80 minutes, not 40 minutes.”
No doubt much of the responsibility for firing up against the Kangaroos this week will rest on Pritchard’s shoulders, too.
With no Marshall and almost certainly no Smith (who has been charged with a grade three dangerous conduct charge), the Bulldogs forward is the second-most experienced player in the New Zealand squad with 23 Tests to his name – only captain Simon Mannering (30) having played more. In total, eight members of the Kiwi squad have played five Tests or fewer.
But Pritchard said he was looking forward to playing the role of leader this week.
“I’m not much of a talker, I try and lead by my actions but I’m learning to talk to the younger guys a lot more,” he explained. “It’s good. I’m trying to take the younger boys under my wing a bit more and help out Simon Mannering and Jeremy Smith in leading the other guys around.
“It is a young squad... the squad is getting younger every year.
“My role has definitely changed over the years being one of the older guys in the team and having a lot of experience. I think over the years I’ve grown and I take that leadership role a bit more seriously this time.”
Asked about the absence of so many key players, Pritchard replied: “Yeah, we’ve got a young squad but it’s full of energy and enthusiasm which is going to be a boost to the team.
“You know, we haven’t had Sonny in the team for the last five years and Benji has been out injured a lot too so we’ve got the boys to fill those spots.”
This week’s clash could also be a precursor to bigger things for Pritchard in 2013 with the World Cup coming up in England and Wales at the end of the year.
Pritchard missed New Zealand’s historic World Cup win of 2008 after having shoulder reconstructions on both shoulders and said he was keen to make amends for his absence last time around.
“No doubt it’s a goal of mine to get picked in that World Cup team,” he said. “I haven’t played in one yet because I’ve been out injured. It’s definitely a goal of mine to play for the Kiwis there again but any time I pull on that black jersey it’s an honour. If I get picked in that team at the end of the year I would be very honoured.”