Roundtable: Four Nations Final preview
Australia and New Zealand have reached the final of the 2016 Four Nations tournament in England, with the Kangaroos winning all three of their matches and the Kiwis scraping through with a win, a loss and a draw.
Today we discuss each country's Four Nations campaign and how we expect the final to play out at Liverpool's historic stadium, Anfield.
Dominic Brock (NRL.com Production Editor): Australia have won all three of their group matches pretty comfortably. What's been the keys to their success so far?
Tony Webeck (Chief Queensland Correspondent): In many respects playing such a simple and controlled brand of football that the other teams contribute to their own demise.
Andy Bryan (Deputy Editor): It is a very different looking Australian side than the one the forfeited the Four Nations on home soil.
Chris Kennedy (National Correspondent): Depth and quality in the playmaking stocks is the big one for me. As good as the forwards and wingers have been, it's the 1-6-7-9 where the massive gulf lies. Being able to leave the likes of Moylan and Maloney out of a full strength team is a luxury well beyond any of the other teams.
Martin Gabor (National Correspondent): An 86 per cent completion rate on the weekend certainly helped. That allows them to dictate terms and control where and how the game should be played.
Adrian McMurray (Producer): Like Andy alluded to, having the best players available for selection certainly helps. Most combinations have been in place at club/state/international level for a while as well, which helps given the few matches played.
AB: They haven't been flawless in any of their three matches, but when they have clicked, they just ask so many questions across the park. Still looking for a complete 80-minute performance.
CK: It's a bit of a cliché but competition for spots is intense. Look at what guys like Tyson Frizell, Shannon Boyd, Jake Trbojevic, Val Holmes, etc have been able to do after only debuting this series (or the Perth game immediately before it). It's putting everyone on notice and lifting everyone's games.
TW: And if you put Cameron Smith in the Kiwi team they would be VERY hard to beat.
MG: Opposition teams have fallen into the trap of trying to out-grind the Aussies. It hasn't worked against Queensland, it never works against the Storm, and teams are finding out the hard way that it doesn't work at international level either. The only way to win is to chance your arm.
AB: I think New Zealand will learn a lot from their escape against Scotland. They need to play up tempo and up the middle of the field a lot more than they have been.
DB: The Kiwis have been much less convincing – pipping England by a single point, losing to Australia and only managing a draw against Scotland. What's gone wrong for them and can they fix their problems in a week?
TW: History suggests that a week is a long time for a Kiwi team in an international tournament. I'm sensing an ambush.
AB: The slightly smaller dimensions of Anfield might also help with that theory.
MG: I just don't think Shaun Johnson has received enough support. It's easy to put the blame on him because he's the one putting himself in position for all the big plays, but he needs ball-playing options in the other key positions.
CK: We've said it before but the support for Shaun Johnson is miles below where it needs to be. Thomas Leuluai is a good player but doesn't look the answer as a Test No.6 and a foil for SJ. Ditto Kahu at fullback – good player but doesn't bring the same skills of a Darius Boyd or Matt Moylan. It's heaping the pressure on SJ to do it all himself and the result has been flashes of brilliance when it comes off and, more often, rushed and poor decisions the rest of the time.
TW: Issac Luke is the only man who can help him. If he doesn't, they can't win.
AB: The Kiwis have a smaller base of players to pull from – missing RTS through injury is huge for them at the back. Also, a fit and healthy Kieran Foran would transform the team in an instant, taking a lot of pressure and organising away from Johnson.
MG: There are whispers Tohu Harris might start at five-eighth ahead of Te Maire Martin. As good as Harris is, they need to pick Martin and hope he delivers like he did against the Broncos on his NRL debut.
AM: Exactly what I was going to suggest, Martin and CK. With Leuluai out of the final with that broken jaw, it'll be up to Tohu Harris or Te Maire Martin to fill the playmaking void... Harris is the more experienced player sure, but he's not the sort of playmaking weapon you need against Australia.
CK: It's still very early days for Te Maire, especially after his interrupted season, but one gets the feeling that if the Kiwis are going to solve their biggest dilemma – a lack of playmaking support for SJ – then TMM is the only man in the squad capable of providing the answer.
AB: With the field set to be a little smaller – due to the nature of rugby league v English football – you can expect a lot of forward play, which means Harris will probably get the nod.
TW: In other news, why are we playing a major final at a venue that isn't big enough for rugby league?
AB: The prestige of Anfield and a chance to grow the game outside of its core audience. Comes up a lot in England with their grounds and venues.
AM: I love the fact that we can play a final at such an iconic venue, but I feel like player safety is being somewhat overlooked here as it has been in the past.
AB: They have taken a lot of precautions over there, I was at Old Trafford for the World Cup Final when Brett Morris slid into the fence. It was quite scary.
AM: Luke Lewis's injury also comes to mind. There are countless examples I'm sure, I just hope for everyone's sake the right measures are in place to stop a repeat of those incidents.
TW: We should have played it at a bigger field, that would have solved the problem.
MG: As Shakespeare once said, what's doth is doth.
DB: About time we got a Shakespeare reference into one of these roundtables.
AB: Was he Dothraki?
MG: He was definitely Westerosi.
CK: I'm with Tony. It seems bizarre playing a major tournament final on a reduced size field, regardless of how prestigious the venue is.
TW: On a shrunken field I'm predicting, like Andy, that it will be very much played in the middle third, which probably helps the Kiwis a little.
CK: Anyway. Can the Kiwis win? I say... probably not. I'm expecting, not unlike recent contests, a close battle for 30 to 50 minutes then the Aussies to pull away and win handily. Less space may favour NZ or help keep it close but I suspect it only delays the inevitable if anything.
DB: Any scoreline predictions?
CK: 28-10, thereabouts.
MG: 22-10 to the Aussies. Thurston MOTM. Cronk first try scorer.
First time I haven't picked Cameron Smith for MOTM. Ever.
TW: I wouldn't be surprised if the Kiwis sprung an upset, but you can't tip them. I'm thinking a 17-10 scoreline to the Kangaroos.
AB: 18-14 Kangaroos. MOTM: Smith.
AM: I can't see anything other than a big Kangaroos victory. We'll go... 34-16, Cronk MOTM, Ferguson first try-scorer (how well has he been going?).
TW: Showers and a top of 7 degrees tipped for Liverpool on Sunday, if that impacts on anything. Lord knows the Kiwis didn't seem to fancy the Workington weather too much.
DB: Yeah I'll take the Kangaroos by 18. They've been rock solid, and the Kiwis haven't. If there are no more observations I think we'll wrap it up?
TW: What's the plan, set the alarm on Sunday night or have an afternoon nap and go through?
AB: Play through, probably Mario 64 in the lead-up.
CK: I'm a night owl anyway so I'll definitely be staying up.
AM: Strategic nap in the evening might be the go before powering through the early morning.
CK: Uncharted 4 on the PS4 will get me through to kick-off.
MG: Nap in the arvo. Watch LOTR the Two Towers and have a chocolate-based snack at midnight.
TW: Better order in some more Pepsi Max then.
DB: Quality insights into all your private lives there gentlemen, I may leave that bit in. Cheers fellas.