Jeff Dickinson-Fox reviews the campaign which saw Melbourne Storm crowned premiers in 2017.
4 days ago
Australian Test coach Ricky Stuart tore off the promoter's hat and declared he'd be happy to see the Kangaroos continue demolishing their international combatants.
Fears Australia could produce a repeat of last year's 58-0 demolishing of New Zealand when the two sides lock horns at the SCG on Friday night are believed to be behind the Sydney public's apparent apathy towards the contest, though officials are still hopeful of a crowd in excess of 25,000.
But Stuart said he wouldn't be barracking for a close contest for the sake of international rugby league.
"I don't care if it's 58-0 or if it's 12-10, I'm not a promoter," Stuart said.
"I'm a coach that wants to win this game of football and I don't care by how much, whether it's two points or 50 points."
Stuart has never been big on the idea that Test rugby league needed New Zealand beating Australia on a regular basis to make it appealing.
He pointed to the embarrassment and upheaval following he 2005 Tri-Nations final to the Kiwis as an example of the expectation on Australia to perform each time they took to the field.
"What do they want, for us to lose? Is that going to make everyone happy? It will certainly make some people happy but it certainly won't be making me," Stuart said.
"I don't enjoy hearing Australians, either media or supporters of the game think that it's better for us to lose.
"I don't mind if we win every game 58-0."
While he'd like another blowout, neither Stuart nor the Australian players are expecting a landslide victory.
There is a sense that the Kiwis will offer more than they did at Westpac Stadium last year given they have veteran coach Wayne Bennett and star backrower Sonny Bill Williams on board as well as England-based players Brent Webb and Thomas Leuluai to boost their squad.
Kangaroos skipper Cameron Smith said the Aussies were wary of underestimating their opposition and putting their standing as the No.1 team in the world at risk.
"We have been very dominant in the international game and although the Kiwis and the Poms are getting a lot closer, we don't want to be the first Kangaroos to start that losing streak," Smith said.
"It's important this year to get a good win Friday night and then that carries on to the World Cup."
Stuart said he had used little of last year's game in his preparation for the contest, though that may change given the halfback from that match, Cooper Cronk, is now on standby for injured No.7 Johnathan Thurston.
"I dragged out one set of six and I basically spoke to the players about how, if we can get the basics in our game right, our skill and ability and speed can then shine," Stuart said.
The Australian squad members were presented with their playing jumper by members of the Team of the Century at a dinner in Sydney on Wednesday night.
Michael Crocker was handed the No.13 by Team of the Century lock John Raper, the Storm backrower to start the contest after coming in as a late replacement for injured skipper Darren Lockyer.