Australia v England
Sunday, 4pm (ADST)
Well that certainly put the cat amongst the pigeons didn't it?
Australia's upset loss to the Kiwis last weekend, as well as England's jailbreak effort against a Samoan side that led 22-20 at the hour mark has set the scene for Sunday's clash with one side aiming to make history, the other to avoid it.
Steve McNamara's side will get few better chances to knock off a Kangaroos team that has had the wood on them for the best part of three decades. They're currently slated with the same 17 that downed Samoa by six points in gripping circumstances last week, though skipper Sean O'Loughlin will be given up until kick-off to recover from a quad strain.
As the only man in the 24-man squad to have tasted success against the Kangaroos (he was a part of the Great Britain sides that pinched Test wins in 2004 and again in 2006), they sure could use him.
Under the English banner the pride of the mother country has to go back to the 1995 World Cup to find their most recent triumph over Australia, and have never sung a victory ditty Down Under going back to 1975.
Across the halfway line Tim Sheens' men are grappling with their own place in the history books, with Saturday's 30-12 loss to the Kiwis their first in 16 outings since 2010. Should they follow it up with another, it'll be the first time since 1978 that the Kangaroos have dropped two Tests in a row, when they were beaten by three and one-point margins in consecutive matches by the French.
A second straight defeat would also consign them to missing the Four Nations final, the first tournament decider not to feature the green and gold since the inaugural 1954 World Cup, which saw Great Britain beat France to claim the title as the Aussies watched on.
Given the team Sheens has put together, he'll be copping the moniker 'Sheenius' win, lose or draw, with the Australian pack prioritising mobility over size a gamble that will either be seen as a masterstroke or master blunder in the face of England's monstrous forwards.
Boyd Cordner comes in for Josh Papalii on the bench and Corey Parker starts for Ryan Hoffman while Robbie Farah retains his utility spot as Daly Cherry-Evans continues to battle a hip complaint – Ben Hunt has been named as cover on an extended bench.
And Sione Mata'utia is set to make the youngest debut in Australian history as he gets a start over Daniel Tupou on the wing – at 18 years and 130 days old the Knights youngster will beat the previous record set by Israel Folau in 2007 by 64 days.
Both sides will also wear commemorative jumpers marking the 100th anniversary of the famed Rorke's Drift Test in 1914, when Great Britain secured a 14-6 victory in the third Ashes Test playing their third match in eight days and doing so with just 10 fit men for the majority of the clash.
Watch Out Australia: What Sheens would've given to have renowned metre-eaters Paul Gallen and Matt Scott on board last weekend, as the Kiwis well and truly won the battle of the middle, and consequently the play-the-ball as well in Brisbane. The English had their own issues containing Samoa's power game but the fact that James Graham, Chris Hill and the Burgess twins ran for 30 metres more per man last week than Australia's prop rotation of Aaron Woods, Sam Thaiday, Corey Parker and Josh Papalii will have the Brits' tails up. The ruck speed becomes especially important with the Kangaroos pack even skinnier up front for this match and Aidan Guerra the only player on the bench at all accustomed to playing a role in the middle. Weighing an average of four kilos heavier per man than the Aussies, the English forwards will fancy their chances of rolling over their smaller rivals if they get an even share of the football, so the Kangaroos will need to keep the ball moving in a bid to wear them down.
Watch Out England: Last weekend's loss was Cameron Smith's first in 10 matches as captain of his country, and judging from his post-match presser he didn't much care for being on the wrong end of the scoreboard. That, the fact he's a genuine, bona-fide, electrified champion and England's god-awful marker defence against Samoa should have all of Queen Elizabeth II's men on high alert. With all due respect to Samoan hooker Pita Godinet, if a bloke who spent the majority of his three seasons at the Warriors in reserve grade can cut England's ruck defence to ribbons and bag a couple of very soft 'meat pies', then it's scary to think what the best hooker of the modern era will unleash if they leave the same gaping holes around the middle. With Robbie Farah averaging 74 dummy-half metres per game – the second-most in the NRL for 2014 – Tim Sheens also has a fair option coming off the pine for when the English big men start to tire.
Plays to Watch: Warrington-bound livewire Daryl Clark will pose the Aussies plenty of questions around the ruck after showing a clean pair of heels for England's first try last week with his first touch of the footy; Greg Inglis to back himself within cooee of the line, either out of acting half or from 10 metres out doing a fair impersonation of a runaway African rhino; England's right-side shift involving Matty Smith, Sam Tomkins and Kallum Watkins to again swing into gear after some slick passing found the Samoans wanting; and the likes of Parker (69 offloads in 2014, the most in the NRL), Beau Scott (38), and Woods (34) to free the arms and generate some second-phase play in a bid to run the big English forwards ragged.
Key Match-Up: Sam Tomkins v Greg Inglis
You probably couldn't find a pair of custodians cut from more different cloth than these two, but world beating fullbacks they are nonetheless. Between them they boast 49 tests for their respective countries (a figure that already rivals their combined age of 52), and throughout 2014 confirmed themselves as two of the most damaging ball-runners in the NRL. Inglis just shaded Tomkins for tackle busts (112-108) as well as line breaks (19-11) and try assists (15-13), while Tomkins drew level in terms of tries (13 each) and line-break assists (18) in his first NRL season. The Englishman touches the ball almost twice as often as his Australian counterpart and takes on more of the play-making duties for his side, a role he slipped into pretty easily last week against Samoa with a try assist, a four-pointer of his own and some quality touches. Inglis meanwhile is expected to be a different proposition to the one which left the field at half-time against the Kiwis due to a virus, and as always will be particularly lethal if given space on the kick return having made the most metres of any fullback this year (1658m at almost 70 metres per game).
Where It Will Be Won: The basics, particularly straight off the bat. Both sides turned in completion rates well below the desired in their respective first halves last week, with England's 13 from 19 sets at 68 per cent only a smidge better than Australia's 12 from 18 (67 per cent). Whichever side can reel in the errors most effectively will hit the ground running, and will also be able to take advantage of opportunities presented by a pair of defensive lines that haven't spent a whole lot of time on the park together. Australia in particular will need to sort out their new combinations without the ball quick smart, as the 51 tackles they missed against the Kiwis was just unacceptable for a top-level side.
The History: Played: 12; Australia 9, England 2, Drawn 1. For the most part the Poms have competed under the banner of Great Britain rather than England until recently, so there have been only 12 clashes between these two since 1975. England's record in Melbourne isn't pretty; their last two games in the southern capital they've been on the wrong end of a combined 86-18 scoreline.
What Are The Odds: The Kangaroos have been well backed with Sportsbet – more than twice the money has been placed on Australia compared to England. Sportsbet punters are all over the Kangaroos at the line of -9.5, and 13+ in margin betting.
For the latest odds visit www.sportsbet.com.au.
Match Officials: Referee – Gerard Sutton; Touch Judges – Robert Hicks and Jason Walshman; Video Referee – Bernard Sutton.
Televised: Channel Nine – Live 4 pm (ADST)
How We See It: England will fancy their chances against this Australian outfit given the lack of size and bevy of unfamiliar faces in the Kangaroos line-up. Up front the visitors look to have the edge while it could well be an even-money bet out wide, perhaps leaning the way of the English with the lack of cohesion in the Aussie backline. Where the Kangaroos do have the edge is in the superstar department, and while it will be tight, we're backing one of Greg Inglis, Cameron Smith or Cooper Cronk to drag the green and golds across the line. Australia by six points.