Watercooler: Aus-NZ final a foregone conclusion?

Let’s not call a spade a shovel – both England and the Kumuls struggled on the weekend and rugby league fans are now asking the question: is an Australia v New Zealand final a foregone conclusion?<br><br>The bookies will tell you yes, the local spectators will agree, but for the players and coaches involved in the Four Nations, it’s too early to make the call.<br><br>The disparity between the sides during both games was obvious, with New Zealand blowing England away in a fantastic first half and the Kumuls unable to capitalise on their already low time in possession, finishing the game scoreless against the Aussies.<br><br>Kangaroos coach Tim Sheens acknowledged the one-sidedness of Sunday’s match and then sent a scare through the England team by declaring his side wasn’t at their best, and would be sharper against the Lions in Melbourne on Sunday.<br><br>“[It was] a good hit-out considering the conditions and the fact that so many guys hadn’t played for two months,” Sheens said. “We were a bit rusty here and there but we did enough.<br><br>“As a group we were pretty good. We did have some loose ball but again, it’s easy to sit up in the box [but when] you go and shake hands and see how cold they were, it was pretty tough conditions out there.”<br><br>The Kangaroos ran in eight tries to none in their 42-0 victory and are extremely short odds to feature in the final, while New Zealand is equally expected to make the trip to Suncorp Stadium on November 13.<br><br>The Kiwis dominated play during Saturday’s 24-10 win and Sheens believes they are the obvious pick to make the final.<br><br>“They’ve set the trend,” he said of the Kiwis. “Their game against Samoa in the trial was brilliant and they’ve gone on with it, particular the start against the Englishmen. The games are all in New Zealand as well, which is a distinct advantage for them.<br><br>“Losing the big winger (Vatuvei) won’t help them – but still, they were very strong in every department: up front, and on the edge as well.”<br><br>But what about the outsiders, England and PNG?<br><br>Sheens hinted that he, too, saw an Australia v New Zealand final as the most likely outcome, but said it’s too early to rule out England.<br><br>“We may be bookies favourites, but we know within the camp that they’re the ones [to beat], and that’s not discounting England.”<br><br>Sheens knows his Kangaroos will come up against an English team desperate to make amends for their ordinary first-half display against the Kiwis, and says the northern rivals are still in the hunt for a consecutive appearance in the Four Nations final after losing to Australia in last year’s decider.<br><br>“Last year England needed to be beat New Zealand to make [the final] – and they did. They’re going to be desperate this week when you’ve got to win – we want to win, and they’ve got to win, so it’s going to be a real tough game down there in Melbourne.<br><br>“They got away to a bad start,” he said of England’s Four Nations opener last week. “But when they did get some ball they were okay, and their pack is strong. <br><br>“In the first game last year we had a draw and we came out and had a dream 30-minute start against them and even then they came back at us, but that’s the sort of start they’ll be looking for this week, so we’ve got to be on our game, for sure.”<br><br>And the Kumuls? Well, at $501 to win the Four Nations, they’re not expected to fare much better in their remaining two games, let alone make the final. Then again, the Kumuls were expected to lose by a much greater margin against the Kangaroos, and both the players and coaching staff believe better ball handling and a stronger display from their halves could see them win a game or two.<br><br>“If we had had better field position with the ball we could have done more, and there were times when we had chances, but it was always going to be tough playing against the Aussies,” Kumuls fullback Ryan Tongia told NRL.com.<br><br>“I think that our boys are very confident of actually being there. The defence we showed against the Aussies was incredible, it was just our ball handling and completions [that let us down]. If we get that better, we can cause some damage.”<br><br>If nothing else, you’ve got to respect the Kumuls for their no-fear approach to playing the three best countries in the world, summed up perfectly by Tongia: “I think every team goes out there with a winning attitude. We’re not here to make up the numbers and we’re definitely not going to sit back and let teams roll over us.”<br><br>