Kiwis won't underestimate virus-hit Aussies
Experienced New Zealand coach Stephen Kearney says the Kiwis are focused on themselves and nothing else despite plenty of distractions rearing their heads before the Four Nations final in Wellington on Saturday.
For a New Zealand side that had lost plenty of troops before the tournament even commenced, a shoulder injury to influential hooker Thomas Leuluai – who was close to the best player on the field against England last weekend – has been compounded with further distractions over the health of key Australian figures.
With Kangaroos quartet David Klemmer, Daly Cherry-Evans, Cooper Cronk and Sione Mata'utia reportedly suffering from a virus, Kearney insisted his team were strictly focused on themselves to seemingly avoid any sense of complacency.
Throw in the fact the Kiwis are looking to win consecutive games against Australia for the first time since 1953, coincidentally the same year when New Zealand last won in Wellington, and it's understandable why Kearney has attempted to narrow his team's focus to their own performance.
"Our focus from right at the start of the tournament was making sure our preparation is right and that's no different. I'm sure they'll be ready to play but our focus is purely on us," Kearney said.
"We have identified areas we have to improve on off the back of last weekend's game so we have been working on them the past couple of days and we hope to take that to Westpac Stadium on the weekend."
With New Zealand looking to make amends for their disappointing showing in last year's World Cup final, Kearney said he would've been disappointed if his squad weren't jumping out of their skin this week.
"You can just sense the lads have a bit of excitement with them playing for a Four Nations title," Kearney said.
"In terms of preparation I've kept it fairly similar to what we have done the past few weeks but we're also under the understanding that Australia played really well against Samoa... so we know we have a real tough challenge on our hands."
Back-rower Tohu Harris agreed, with the 22-year-old labelling it a special time for everyone in the New Zealand squad.
"It is always special playing in the Kiwis team and being a part of this group with everyone together. Every game, no matter the enormity, is special to everyone," Harris said.
"[Australia] are a quality team and they have certainly improved throughout the competition. It is going to be a tough match and it will be one where we have to play the whole 80 minutes."