Mannering: We must seize the day
As an older and wiser player than when he won his first World Cup as a 22-year-old centre, Kiwi skipper Simon Mannering says he now realises the magnitude of the opportunity afforded his side on Saturday.
"[When] you've got a few more years under your belt, you probably appreciate it a little bit more," Mannering, now 27 and playing as captain in the second row, told NRL.com ahead of their World Cup decider with Australia.
"When you're young you've still got a lot of growing to do, you always feel like there will be another opportunity around the corner but at this stage of your career you don't know if you'll play another one – and who knows what will happen down the line?
"But if it all goes to plan on Saturday it will definitely be a pretty special moment, very proud to have that [captaincy] role in the team," he said.
The 2008 win was special not just for the team but also for what it meant for the development of New Zealand rugby league, Mannering said.
"There was a lot more buzz around the country for rugby league [following the win] and if we could do something like that again this time round it would be pretty special and we'd definitely feel like we'd be giving something back to the local game back home," he said.
"Also for the players involved it would be a fair achievement to look back on that when you've finished up."
Mannering said he had been impressed with the way the side had improved throughout the tournament up until the England game, which he said had been the most inconsistent. However this was also down to the quality of the opposition, who were able to force a number of errors from New Zealand both with and without the ball, he added.
"The pleasing thing is that when it counted we came up with the right play and managed to get the win," he said.
"It's obviously very pleasing to overcome a very good England side up here in England which I don't think the Kiwis have done for a while and more so in a World Cup semi-final. We've given ourselves an opportunity to lift the Cup now by being in the final [and] it's a great occasion for us to be running out in the final on Saturday."
The Kiwis will have just three survivors from the 2008 final run out on Saturday – Mannering, hooker Issac Luke (who came off the bench in 2008) and winger Manu Vatuvei (if passed fit), and Mannering said that touch of experience may help but is "not the be all and end all".
By contrast the Kangaroos have named five players from the unsuccessful 2008 final in their 19-man squad – Billy Slater, Greg Inglis, Johnathan Thurston, Cameron Smith and Paul Gallen.
"I think [the experience] might help a little bit... just knowing from last time it was a pretty special occasion, at the time you probably don't realise how big it is until after.
"For us guys that have been there before it's something to remind the guys of but you don't want to get too worked up too long before the game... but obviously you've got to realise what's on the line and make sure you do everything you can to put a good performance together because these opportunities don't come every week."
That's the biggest lesson Mannering took from the previous tournament – along with the fact that the form guide goes out in the window when you reach the final.
"It doesn't really matter what's come before in the tournament, it's almost a clean slate now and it's [down to] who can come up with the best performance in these 80 minutes. Most of the form goes out the window before this game and it's whoever can put it all together on the night and outdo the other team."
Mannering paid tribute to the quality of the opposition, adding he was under no illusions as to the size of the task facing his side against a team that hasn't conceded a try in its past four outings.
"They're a great side. Any top sides, they defend really well, it's a fair record from them. I guess even though they've played against some lesser-known teams there has been some quality players in those teams. Those guys definitely chance their arm and throw the ball around and not letting them score is an impressive record and just shows what a quality team they are," he said.
He was also hesitant to single out individual players from the opposition as key threats, acknowledging their strike power across the park.
"I think right across the board they're dangerous, you can't really single out one or two guys. They're just strong all over, that's why they're in the Australian team, you can't put all the emphasis on one or two players because you'll forget about the others out there and they'll definitely hurt you."
Mannering also paid tribute to the New Zealand players who received accolades at the Rugby League International Federation awards during the week.
"We had Roger [Tuivasa-Sheck] as best winger, for him as a 20-year-old in pretty much his first full season of league that's pretty impressive and he's going to get even better so it's pretty scary to think how he's going to turn out as a player and he's a great kid also," he said.
"Issac Luke, hooker of the year, for him to get that award and some recognition, it's great for Issac, he's played well for a number of years. The international game, with Cameron Smith there, he's one of the best players going around, for him to get that award over Cameron Smith is a great achievement for Issac.
"Sonny [Bill Williams], to pick up second-rower of the year and player of the year, he's made it look pretty easy coming back from a fair spell from League to pick up that award and playing some great footy for the Roosters and New Zealand, he's a bit of a freak."