New Zealand coach Stephen Kearney admits his side are the underdogs going into tomorrow’s World Cup final, but Australia forward Greg Bird believes the Kiwis are an even better team than when they won in 2008.
They are World Cup holders and won the 2010 Four Nations, but those victories, which both came in Brisbane, are their only successes over the Kangaroos in the last five years.
“Looking at their team, we’re well aware of the calibre of player they have,” said Kearney, who is looking to become the first coach to retain the title in the 59 years of the World Cup.
“We do start as underdogs, but the lads are confident that, if they can bring their best performance on Saturday then we give ourselves a great opportunity.”
Kearney was at the helm, alongside Australian coaching guru Wayne Bennett, five years ago, but New Zealand have just three survivors from the team that won 34-20.
Simon Mannering, who has taken over the captaincy, Manu Vatuvei and Issac Luke have a host of new big-name team-mates, most notably Sonny Bill Williams, while Shaun Johnson is well on the way to filling the boots of ex-talisman Benji Marshall.
They also have four members of the Sydney Roosters team that won the NRL Grand Final last month.
“I think they’re stronger than ’08,” Bird said. “Throw in Sonny Bill and a lot of the Roosters forwards – Frank-Paul (Nu’uausala) and (Jared) Waerea-Hargreaves, they’re in career-best form.
“They’ve been leading the way throughout this tournament.
“We’ve got to be better. We weren’t better in 2008, but I’m confident we can get the job done on Saturday.”
The Australians overcame a shaky start to the tournament against England, where they trailed 10-0 after the first quarter before going on to win 28-20, and they have not conceded a try in their last four matches.