AUSTRALIA captain Cameron Smith says his side have been playing a restrained type of football throughout this World Cup specifically to prepare for today’s final against New Zealand at Old Trafford.
It seems ludicrous to suggest that a rampant Kangaroos side that has scored on average nearly 50 points per match en route to Manchester has been reining in things.
However, it perhaps says more about just how good this Australia side really is as they look to reclaim the trophy they infamously lost against this afternoon’s opponents five years ago.
“We have learned in the past month that it doesn’t really matter what has happened before the final,” said Smith, one of five survivors from that Brisbane shock.
“The final is all that matters. In the last four weeks we have racked up a couple of big scorelines but it is all good preparation for this game.
“You haven’t seen too much flair, or too many times when we tried to take the easy option; we have always tried to go the hard way and play tough, simple footy because we know that is what it is going to take to play well against the Kiwis.”
There has, however, been no talk of revenge for what happened in 2008, coach Tim Sheens merely reminding his side of what will happen if they dare show complacency.
New Zealand may have won only four of their 29 games with their old foes across the Tasman in this millennium but, crucially, three of those successes were in finals; the 2005 Tri-Nations at Elland Road, the aforementioned World Cup and the 2010 Four Nations finale in Brisbane.
These Kiwis do certainly tend to keep their powder dry for the biggest of occasions.
Smith, the experienced Melbourne Storm rake who succeeded Darren Lockyer as Queensland and Australia captain two years ago, admitted: “It (2008) was bitterly disappointing given we had a very good build-up to that match.
“We played an almost flawless tournament up to that game and in the first 40 minutes were pretty good.
“But we didn’t finish it off and the Kiwis were good enough to come over the top of us.
“That is in the past, though. We do not want to live in the past.
“Certainly we can learn from it but there is no chance of using it as motivation for this game.
“For some reason the Kiwis traditionally play better in tournaments than when they play one-off matches but we are not going to be looking at what has happened in the last couple of years or even this year in the Anzac Test.
“We know these guys have been playing extremely well throughout the whole campaign. How many teams would have got themselves out of trouble like they did last week?”
The feeling is, however, that meticulous Australia have, indeed, been building diligently towards the 80 minutes which lie ahead.
Their forwards may not be as big and imposing as the New Zealand variety but offer mobility and footballing nous that is just as vital and, with a more worldly half-back partnership plus greater strike threat out wide, regardless of whether Billy Slater gets the nod after injury this morning, the Green and Golds are understandably rated favourites.
The pressure on them to perform is immense – until that Brisbane shock they had held the trophy ever since 1975 – but dealing with that has become commonplace for Smith and his luminary side.
That said, there is a clear understanding of the calibre of this New Zealand team, whose battling quality was obvious when they somehow fought back to beat England in the dying embers of an epic semi-final at Wembley a week ago and are augmented by the newly-crowned world player of the year, Sonny Bill Williams, who did not feature five years ago.
“The Kiwis have a lot of young guys who are pretty confident players,” conceded Smith, who knows them all well from weekly battles in the NRL. “Look at Shaun Johnson’s try the other night (against England).
“Not too many guys in the international game could come up with a play like that at that time of the match.
“But we have a strong game plan that has worked well for us in the last few matches.
“If play our very best, we can have a good opportunity to get the result.”
Have they got special plans for SBW, rated the most hated man in Australia after walking out on Canterbury Bulldogs for a lucrative deal with Toulon RU in 2008 but now lauded again after a remarkable first season back in this code?
“I do not think you can stop him,” admitted Smith, who will also play out a fascinating personal battle with South Sydney’s Issac Luke, the hooker of the tournament so far.
“Our plans are to try and minimise what he (SBW) can do.
“We know our defence has been great over the last month (Australia have not conceded a single try in four games) but it is going to be tested heaps at times on Saturday.
“Luke is dangerous and has probably had the best season of his whole career.
“He’s a different player to most dummy halves who will come out and try pass or create an option for one of the runners.
“But he is one who loves taking the ball under his wing and taking you on. He is powerful and quick and if you give him an opportunity to run he will take it every time.”
Undoubtedly, much of New Zealand’s threat does rest on his shoulders.
However, in all likelihood, this will be the 30-year-old Smith’s last chance to win a World Cup.
One of the greatest players of his generation, it seems unlikely he will let it slip him by.
The final will be watched by the largest crowd in the history of international rugby league, ticket sales having topped 74,000. The previous record was 73,631 for the 1992 World Cup final between Great Britain and Australia.
Australia: C Smith (Melbourne, capt), G Bird (Gold Coast), D Boyd (Newcastle), D Cherry-Evans (Manly), C Cronk (Melbourne), A Fifita (Cronulla), J Hayne (Parramatta), P Gallen (Cronulla), G Inglis (S Sydney), B Morris (St George Illawarra), N Myles (Gold Coast), J Papalii (Canberra), C Parker (Brisbane), M Scott (N Queensland), B Slater (Melbourne), J Tamou (North Queensland), B Tate (N Queensland), S Thaiday (Brisbane), J Thurston (N Queensland).
New Zealand: J Bromwich (Melbourne), G Eastwood (Canterbury), K Foran (Manly), A Glenn (Brisbane), B Goodwin (S Sydney), S Johnson (NZ Warriors), S Kasiano (Canterbury), K Locke (NZ Warriors), I Luke (S Sydney), S Mannnering (NZ Warriors, capt), B Matulino (NZ Warriors), J Nightingale (St George Illawarra), F-P Nu’uausala (Sydney Roosters), E Taylor (NZ Warriors), R Tuivasa-Sheck (Sydney Roosters), M Vatuvei (NZ Warriors), J Waerea-Hargreaves (Sydney Roosters), D Whare (Penrith), S B Williams (Sydney Roosters).
Referee: R Silverwood (England).