Hohaia warns Kiwis mean business

They may be facing off in a bizarre ‘dead rubber’ on Saturday night but veteran New Zealand fullback Lance Hohaia has warned that victory over Australia this week would provide a huge mental edge ahead of next week’s Four Nations final in Brisbane.

Playing down suggestions that both sides would play their cards close to their chest at Eden Park this weekend, Hohaia told nrl.com that the latest clash between the traditional rivals provided a unique opportunity to steal the advantage before the big one seven days later.

“I think everyone realises how important this game is,” the 27-year-old said. “It’s something that I’m sure will be mentioned in the coming days so I’m sure all the guys are aware of that… It’s a psychological advantage more than anything.

“If we can build some confidence and have a good win it will benefit us heading into the final.”

Asked his thoughts on the match being a dead rubber, Hohaia said: “Every time you play a Test match you want to do well. We don’t want to lose and I’m sure Australia doesn’t either.

“It’s a chance to represent your country and another Test cap so I don’t think anyone will be holding anything back.

“A lot of people have been saying that it’s a dead rubber and the Aussies are going to have a few players out – but that doesn’t even come into our minds.

“We understand it’s going to be a really tough game no matter what the situation is so that’s what we’re expecting.”

Australia has taken the opportunity to blood some fresh talent this week, with Wests Tigers centre Chris Lawrence, Dally M Player of the year Todd Carney, Cowboys prop Matthew Scott and St George Illawarra hooker Dean Young all making their international debuts.

But the Kiwis have named their best side possible, with coach Stephen Kearney rushing back Adam Blair, Frank Pritchard and Ben Matulino.

Hohaia said the New Zealanders were wary of undoing the momentum they had built up following successive wins over Samoa (in a warm-up game), England and Papua New Guinea.

“We’ve had three games now and I think we always tend to do a bit better with more games under our belts and a bit of time together,” he said.

“There are no excuses now why we shouldn’t be able to perform on the weekend. I know that’s how everyone feels.

“We’ve improved each time we’ve played but I think we still need to play a lot better than we have done to beat Australia.

“We need everyone focused and on the job for the full 80 minutes.”

The Kiwis come into Saturday’s clash as the form team of the competition, having scored 14 tries in a 76-12 thrashing of Papua New Guinea last weekend – a result Hohaia described as the confidence boost his side was after.

“It wasn’t really about trying to score as many points as we could, it was more about playing as hard and as relentless as possible,” he said.

“No matter what happened during the game we wanted to stick to our structures and our game plan, and I think that’s what the most pleasing part was.

“I think it showed how far we’ve come too, after the disappointment of last year (when they failed to reach the Four Nations final).

“We had a lot of young guys in the side and hopefully they’ve learnt a bit from that. We’ve got good depth now – a lot of good players available for selection.

“We’ve had to leave some guys out so we’ve got a very competitive squad now and a lot of guys competing for spots.

“It also helps us a lot being back in New Zealand too in front of our home crowd. It’s a good chance for us to do really well so I hope we don’t let this opportunity slip.”