Wales v Australia
Racecourse Ground, Wrexham
Monday, 3.45am AEST
The good news for the Kangaroos is that part one of their Four Nations mission is complete. Last week’s hard-fought win over hosts England, coming just a week after they accounted for New Zealand in the tournament opener, saw Australia progress to their third consecutive Four Nations final and they head into Sunday night’s clash with minnows Wales knowing that they can relax a little… at least for the time being.
However, with injury and suspension woes hanging ominously above their collective heads, there will be no such grace period for coach Tim Sheens. The veteran mentor was forced into an impromptu reshuffle last week that saw back-rower Luke Lewis shunted out to the wing and he faces a number of selection headaches that must be sorted ahead of next week’s tournament showdown with the winner of Saturday night’s England-New Zealand clash.
One thing for certain is that star fullback Billy Slater won’t be taking any further part in the Four Nations after he broke his collarbone against the Poms. While his shoes will be ably filled by Darius Boyd, the Kangaroos’ depth is bound to be tested with Robbie Farah and Willie Tonga also unavailable and Tony Williams likely to be sidelined following his high shot on Ben Westwood last week.
Farah’s absence throws Sheens’ original plans of giving the Wests Tigers hooker his opportunity against Wales into disarray, while Williams’ destructive presence will also be sorely missed.
Despite his side’s injury concerns, Sheens has chosen to rest departing five-eighth Darren Lockyer to ensure he is fit and firing as he aims for a fairytale farewell in a week’s time.
Wales have their own worries, with impressive young back-rower Tyson Frizell in doubt after injuring his arm against New Zealand last week. The Cronulla Sharks junior had been one of Wales’ best performers in their loss to England a fortnight ago.
The Welsh can’t afford to face Australia at less than full strength as they look to continue a Four Nations campaign in which they have been far from embarrassed by their much more accomplished opposition.
Watch Out Kangaroos: Australia must focus on pressuring the kicker against the Welsh, whose captain Lee Briers is among the most complete in world football. Renowned for his extremely accurate long-kicking game, he punished England in their Four Nations debut two weeks ago as he kicked for a whopping 483 metres and backed that up with 362 against the Kiwis last weekend.
The Kangaroos’ ability to pressure Briers will provide a good indication of their attitude against a side they are expected to beat comfortably.
Watch Out Wales: The Welsh will have their hands full containing Greg Inglis following the Australian centre’s devastating return against England last week. Inglis tormented England with his powerful runs – brushing off multiple players with one of his first touches – and scored a simple try following a brilliant delayed pass from Johnathan Thurston. Expect him to see plenty of football against Wales.
Plays To Watch: The presence of Darius Boyd at fullback in place of the injured Billy Slater is sure to see the Kangaroos focus on their left-side attack. Boyd’s three years at St George Illawarra saw the Dragons develop a pet play on their left in which a second-man play would see Boyd chime into the backline before either slicing through himself or, more often, send the ball out for winger Brett Morris to score. The Kangaroos are also partial to the second-man play and Wales will need their right-edge defence to be on the ball whenever Boyd drifts out to that side of the field.
The History: Played 3; Kangaroos 3, Wales 0. Wales have never beaten Australia and that trend is unlikely to end this weekend. Although the two nations have only played three full internationals (all of them since 1975), they have actually faced off on nine other occasions since 1911, with Australia also winning each of those encounters.
Ironically, the Kangaroos’ biggest winning margin against Wales in a full international is only 24 points (winning 46-22 at Huddersfield in the 2000 World Cup) so there is a good chance they will break that record this week. However, their biggest win in all contests was a massive 76-4 thrashing at Bridgend in 2003.
Conclusion: The real question here isn’t whether Australia will win but by how much. With his injury and suspension woes causing some headaches, expect to see coach Tim Sheens experiment with a few options out wide as he looks to find the perfect combination to take into next weekend’s final. Rugby league purists will no doubt recognise how one-sided this promises to be – although the good news for Aussie fans is that they can expect plenty of points to be scored.
Match Officials: Referee – Phil Bentham; Sideline Officials – Paul Holland & Tim Roby; Video Referee – Ben Thaler.
Televised: Fox Sports 1 – Delayed, Monday, 3pm.
• Statistics: NRL Stats