Kiwis champion warns of Roos revenge
At one point the Kiwis were the undisputed kings of the game, enjoying the perch atop the rugby league pedestal as holders of the Four Nations crown and a World Cup trophy. Until 2010, such a lofty position had been the stuff of legend in the land of the long white cloud.
But a man who was at the centre of both triumphs in the space of three years says that when New Zealand host Saturday's final against Australia in their own backyard in Wellington, this current crop of Kiwis will be travelling where no countrymen have gone before.
"Back then we were the underdog. Now we've got a home final this time around as opposed to playing away, as well as having beaten Australia earlier on in the tournament," former Kiwis halfback Nathan Fien told NRL.com.
"Some people might even be thinking that New Zealand are the favourites, so it's a whole different perspective on their approach and what their mindset needs to be."
Fien believes the Kangaroos' 30-12 horror movie at Suncorp three weeks ago will have been constantly replaying in their minds from the moment the full-time siren hooted in Wollongong last week.
Which means rugby leaguer's habitual bridesmaids will soon find out what life is like as the team waiting at the end of the aisle.
"Australia are definitely on their toes now," Fien said. "They were disappointed in Round 1 with their performance when the Kiwis got them and got them quite convincingly, so that's a different kettle of fish to what happened in both the tournaments that I played in and won."
Fien was New Zealand's stability alongside Benji Marshall's unpredictability in their stunning World Cup breakthrough in 2008, before he then assumed national hero status when he latched onto a 79th-minute Hail Mary from Marshall to steal an equally famous Four Nations victory in Brisbane two years later.
"Obviously being able to beat an Australian side at any stage is a great achievement, but to do it in a Four Nations final, it was great for the playing group," he recalled.
"We were down with not too long to play and [Marshall] ran the ball on the last tackle down that right-hand edge and ended up making a bit of a break.
"He probably went a touch too far and then just threw it over his head just as he got tackled there. But there were four or five black jerseys around it and I was the lucky one to pick up the ball and get it over the line.
"To score the match-winning try was an awesome feeling. The kick that I did right after it into the crowd was actually the best kick of my whole night. Ahh, good times. Good memories."
The key, Fien said, was in the preparation and detail to the lead-up of both finals. And that's where the former Dragons No.7 remembers coach Stephen Kearney proving his strengths as a top-flight coach.
"'Mooks' is a big part of what happens in that black jersey. He does special little things for the group, like throughout the tournament he puts together DVDs that he shows in our team meetings, all the highlights of what we've been doing well throughout the tournament," he said.
"Especially those little extra special efforts that individuals are making, he highlights them and it brings the group closer together. That man-management of 'Mooks', he's been doing it for a number of years now and it's part of the reason why he's been so successful."
And to that end, Fien sees the same confidence and assurance in this New Zealand side that was present in the breakthrough teams of 2008 and 2010.
"It's just special bond. There truly is that brotherhood amongst the group. I guess the more time you spend in it, the closer everyone gets," he said.
"People know what their role is, they know what they can bring to the table and know what they do well. Obviously leading into the final there are plenty of outside influences and distractions going on that can distract you from what you need to do on the field.
"But those particular years, we just had it right. I think a lot of the signs of what happened then are there in this group that's together now. They're really playing some good football. They put everyone on notice, and Australia on notice, in the first week of this Four Nations tournament."