GRAND FINAL DAY LOCKED IN | Three big fixtures next Sunday at Sydney's ANZ Stadium! Burleigh and Ill...
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The absence of almost 20 regular players from the Kangaroos squad is no reassurance for New Zealand rugby league coach Daniel Anderson, who says Australia will always field a formidable side.
Anderson was asked his thoughts on how the Kangaroos, who have at least 19 players missing through injury and personal reasons, would fare on their six-week tour of New Zealand, Great Britain and France, which begins at North Harbour Stadium on Saturday.
"Australia still has quality and depth in numbers," said Anderson at the Millennium Institute of Sport in Auckland.
"It doesn't matter who they don't have - you just have to look at the players they do have there.
"I've kept saying stop looking at what's not there and have a look at what is there. "They'll be allright - they've got plenty of talent."
Key Australians missing from the side that beat the Kiwis 48-6 in July include Brisbane hardman Gorden Tallis (retired from rep football) and test skipper Andrew Johns (neck injury).
But New Zealand has its own injury worries.
The Kiwis are light on halves following injuries to Stacey Jones and Lance Hohaia and the unavailability of brothers Henry and Robbie Paul through their respective commitments to English rugby side Gloucester and Super League team Bradford.
But Anderson said the 11 NZ Warriors in his squad would be hell-bent on avenging their loss to Penrith in the NRL semifinals, while Panthers pair Joe Galavao and Tony Puletua would still be on a high following their grand final victory over the Sydney Roosters.
"There's a lot of blokes here who've had successful seasons so there's a lot of confidence just on their individual accomplishments," said the Kiwis coach.
"There's enough players that did win a premiership ring and enough hunger for a bit of redemption from players to put in a better show than what they did in their last game."
Anderson believed the style of play on Saturday night would differ greatly from the July test match in Sydney, with Newcastle No 9 Danny Buderus the only player remaining among the halves, fullbacks and hookers from that encounter.
Australian coach Chris Anderson, under siege as national and Cronulla mentor, said he would not change a winning formula despite having seven debutants in his 23-man squad.
He said three of the newcomers would play against the Kiwis - Michael De Vere, Richard Villasanti and Phil Bailey.
"We won't be changing our game plan a great deal," said Anderson, "But obviously we've got a fairly new team and in some areas a fairly inexperienced team. It's just a matter of us handling the pressure at this level of football," he said.
Daniel Anderson has handed the organisational duties to new halves combination of five-eighth Nigel Vagana and 18-year-old Thomas Leuluai, who will shape up against the Australian pair of Craig Wing and Brett Kimmorley.
"We've got a young halfback who can push blokes around. He's obviously had little experience but I'll give him a role which isn't too hard for him to do." the NZ coach said.
Chris Anderson believes the Kiwis will adopt the same bash-and-barge approach as the Warriors.
"With those halfbacks you'd think they'll struggle to get width through the game, which they might not be looking for," he said.
"The Warriors don't spread it a great deal, they try and go through you. The only time they really spread it is on second-phase footy so I'd imagine New Zealand will play the same way."
The Australians will train twice Thursday, as will New Zealand, after enjoying a rest day Wednesday.