A hostile Eden Park crowd showered Australia with abuse and plastic beer bottles last time the Kangaroos clashed with New Zealand at the venue, but that’s simply Test football according to newly appointed Australian captain Cameron Smith.
Smith was filling in as captain the last time the two sides met at New Zealand’s premier sporting ground two years ago, but returns as the full-time leader of the Kangaroos.
With the highly-publicised selection of New Zealand-born James Tamou in the Australian side dividing opinion and heating tensions between the trans-Tasman rivals, Smith is expecting a similarly icy reception from Kiwis fans on Friday night.
“It was a very hostile environment [two years ago], but we really enjoyed that game,” Smith told NRL.com.
“There was a lot of boing going on when our national anthem was being played. We were copping abuse left, right and centre from the crowd, but that is Test match footy.
“It is a high intensity environment. Both teams are playing to win and we were playing some aggressive footy, I think it will be much the same on Friday night.”
The Aussies are preparing themselves for an extremely physical encounter against the Kiwis and they have identified the battle of the middle of the field as crucial to winning the test match.
“They are nice and aggressive, they try to dint you early and give opportunities for the smaller guys around them,” Smith said.
“Shaun Johnson is going to be there, Benji Marshall; two of the more dangerous players in the competition at the moment, so we are going to have our hands full.”
It is no secret that New Zealand will look to utilise Issac Luke, Shaun-Kenny Dowall and Jason Nightingale out of dummy-half – targeting Australia’s big forwards around the middle of the field.
Smith believes Issac Luke’s running from the play-the-ball has been as good as any player in the opening seven rounds of the NRL competition. But knowing what he does and stopping him are two totally different prospects.
“They have very good dummy-half runners,” Smith said.
“Issac Luke has probably been the best out of dummy-half this year with his running game, he’s pretty hard to bring down.
“He has a good offload, he is a strong little bloke and he is going to be dangerous.”