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34 hours ago
Australian national coach Wayne Bennett says New Zealand now boast the talent to match the Kangaroos on the rugby league field.
Three weeks out from the traditional Anzac Day battle with the Kiwis in Brisbane, Bennett has acknowledged New Zealand pose a genuine threat to the world champion Kangaroos' dominance.
"If you look at the talent I honestly believe the New Zealanders have probably got as much talent as Australia, if not more," Bennett said, referring to the emergence of Sonny Bill Williams and Benji Marshall, at a State of Origin function in Brisbane on Wednesday.
Australia walloped Great Britain in the final of the Tri Nations series in England late last year.
But Bennett said it was a lucky night during which the Kangaroos "clicked" after some very tough lead-up games.
New Zealand officials are desperately hoping Brisbane's teenage sensation Karmichael Hunt has a late change of heart and plays next month's Anzac test.
But Kiwi coach Daniel Anderson said he understood the youngster's decision.
"Of course the New Zealand rugby league would like Karmichael to play for the Kiwis," said Anderson.
"Karmichael has a valid argument.
"He's played all his senior football in Queensland and in Brisbane.
"He feels he wants to play Origin for them."
Anderson conceded many New Zealander's struggled to accept Hunt's stand.
"You can't make a person do something. It's about motivation and want," he said.
"If the player wants to play, that's great, you make them play."
Anderson felt New Zealand needed another 10 or 15 players of test calibre to match Australia.
"Realistically we've probably got 25 or 30 players we can select, the Aussies have probably got 100," he said.
"We'd like to get another 10 or 15.
"You look at the Australian halfback-hooker combinations they could pick, we just don't have that depth yet.
"But you never know, in two, three, five years, we've got some boys coming through."
He said it was important for the Kiwis not to lose the respect they'd earned in recent years.
"You only have to look back 15 years ago when France was becoming a rugby league power, now they're back to being an emerging nation again.
"We don't want that to happen to us.
"We've had a bit of a battle the last few years to stay in touch and we need to keep making ground."