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Roo's Expect a Tough Match
The Kangaroos are expecting tommorow mornings Tri-Nations Test against New Zealand to be every bit as tough and tight as last week's series opening draw, but at least they'll have more room to move.
The Australians had the tape measure out at Loftus Road in London and "couldn't be happier" with the dimensions of the soccer ground converted into a tight rugby league field.
They were angered by the New Zealanders' deliberate ploy last week to shrink the field at North Harbour Stadium in Auckland from the standard 68 metres wide to the bare minimum 61m with in-goal areas of six metres.
While the in-goals at Loftus Road, the home of second division soccer club QPR, will also be 6m deep, the field will be 66.4m wide and 96m long, much to the Australians' relief.
"The New Zealanders wanted to make it smaller last week to restrict what we do well," Australian coach Wayne Bennett said.
"There's enough competitiveness between the nations and the players without having to use things like that.
"We knew we were in for a tough game last week and it was tough and we know we're in for another one here. We don't need to add things like small fields to try and motivate us.
"This week will be tough and tight and even better than last week.
"Last week a lot of the players hadn't played for four weeks.
"They'll get their timing back, decision making they'll be sharper with, they'll have better match fitness."
Bennett scored another pre-match victory when RFL technical boss Stuart Cummings eased his concerns over attacking players diving to take advantage of the absence of the dominant tackle rule in international matches.
"Stuart Cummings told me they have a surrender tackle version over here and a drop to your knees type version," Bennett said.
"So if that's the case, that's fine. They allow you to lay on them, they just don't call it. They're not into letting guys surrender in the tackle or drop to their knees. I'm happy with that."
Bennett made one change to his starting 13 with goalkicking second rower Craig Fitzgibbon returning from a sternum injury, with Willie Mason dropping to the bench and Ben Kennedy dropped from the team.
New Zealand was forced into three changes in its starting line-up, with winger Lesley Vainikolo, second rower Logan Swann and Parramatta prop Nathan Cayless coming in for Matt Utai, Tony Puletua and Joe Galuvao who all returned to Australia for scheduled surgery after last week's draw.
Robbie Paul and North Queensland prop Paul Rauhihi have come onto the bench.
"We think we'll be a little stronger with Craig back in there," Bennett said.
"I dont think New Zealand's changes will make then stronger but it won't make them weaker."
Like Utai, Puletua and Galuvao, Vainikolo will also only play one match in the series before having scheduled knee surgery at the insistence of his English club Bradford.
Despite the disruptions, New Zealand coach Daniel Anderson was happy to have his players pop in for guest appearances.
A sell out crowd of 16,000 is expected at Loftus Road in Shepherd's Bush in west London, the heartland of the Australian and New Zealand expat community.
The versatile Sean Timmins won the battle with Andrew ryan to take the last spot on the Kangaroos substitute bench.
Australia: Anthony Minichiello; Matt Sing, Willie Tonga, Shaun Berrigan, Luke Rooney; Darren Lockyer (capt), Craig Gower; Tonie Carroll, Craig Fitzgibbon, Nathan Hindmarsh, Shane Webcke, Danny Buderus, Jason Ryles. Res: Willie Mason, Craig Wing, Shaun Timmins, Petero Civoniceva.
New Zealand: Brent Webb; Francis Meli, Nigel Vagana, Paul Whatuira, Lesley Vainikolo; Vinnie Anderson, Thomas Leuluai; Sonny Bill Williams, Logan Swann, Ruben Wiki, Jason Cayless, Louis Anderson, Nathan Cayless. Res: Robbie Paul, Roy Asotasi, David Kidwell, Paul Rauhihi.