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2 days ago
Kiwi coach Daniel Anderson rubbished claims his current outfit was the Kiwis' "worst team ever" and would be hammered in Friday night's ANZAC test against Australia in Newcastle.
The Kiwis - missing halfback Stacey Jones, fullback David Vaealiki and almost certainly captain Ruben Wiki - have been copping a pasting both in Australia and back home as being easy meat for a strong Australian line-up.
Jones pulled out of the side because of his poor form, Parramatta's Vaealiki has a rib cartilage injury and Canberra forward Wiki will fight a high shot charge at the NRL judiciary on Wednesday night.
Prop Jason Cayless hasn't played since round two when he suffered a knee injury and Cronulla centre Nigel Vagana has played just one match this year following his off-season shoulder surgery.
And he will play out of position at fullback against Australia.
"We're probably 30-point underdogs and most people, even ex-Kiwis, are putting the boot in as the worst team ever but I think that's a bit harsh to tell you the truth," Anderson said after team training at Gosford Stadium on Tuesday.
"This is the best team that could've been selected. There's some very good footballers here and most of them are in winning teams, winning clubs and in winning form.
"If we get 50-50 possession and we compete, we're not without hope."
The task has been made somewhat easier for Anderson following the arrival of Bradford pair Lesley Vainikolo and Robbie Paul.
"They add a bit of personality and character to the team squad," said the NZ Warriors coach.
"They're not afraid to throw in a bit of banter and it's good for the team."
The Raiders will attempt to have Wiki's reckless high tackle charge downgraded at the judiciary but even if they succeed, the inspirational forward is likely to cop a suspension and miss the test match.
He already faces a six-week stint on the sidelines.
It's probable that Stephen Kearney will be drafted into the starting side to replace Wiki, with David Kidwell coming onto the bench.
But Anderson was keeping his cards close to his chest.
"There's nothing we can do with Ruben," he said.
"We've got Frank Pritchard, David Kidwell and Epalahame Lauaki in the training squad. They're all running in different areas to see what's going to be the best balance should (the judiciary hearing) not come down our way.
"We're not worrying about too many decisions until after the judiciary hearing. We're training as a group of 20 and we'll see what happens."
Anderson said Vagana, Paul and Nathan Cayless were all in the frame to wear the captain's armband if Wiki is rubbed out.
He also expressed confidence in the fitness of Jason Cayless, who has undergone agility and speed work over the past two days.
"We expect him to play," Anderson said. "There's nothing to suggest that he can't."
New Zealand beat Australia 30-16 in the two teams' most recent meeting, last October in Auckland.
But Australia, boasting a team hardened by the State of Origin series, hammered the Kiwis 48-6 in July last year and Anderson was happy the sides were on a level playing field this time around.
"I thought we were on a hiding to nothing last year," he noted.
"This year the playing levels are very similar. The UK boys have been in camp since Sunday so that's vastly different.
"They've been able to build for the week like the rest of us are."