Australia v New Zealand RLWC Semi Final preview

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Australia Men v New Zealand Men Saturday 6:45am at Elland Road, Leeds

History favours Australia as New Zealand looks to prove everyone wrong

World Cup organisers were reportedly forced to predict when competing nations from this year's tournament would be knocked out.

When it came to New Zealand, its flight out of England is said to come a day after its semi-final against Australia.

If winning to get through to the final was not motivation enough, the Kiwis now have another reason to want to prove the doubters wrong on Saturday morning when they face the Kangaroos.

It could have very easily been Fiji in this weekend's semi-final instead of New Zealand, with the Kiwis somewhat fortunate to escape with a 24-18 win in their quarter-final.

Coming up against an Australian team that has found it pretty easy to pile on the points early, Kiwis coach Michael Maguire knows the importance of bringing the intensity from kick-off on Saturday.

"We need to be better in areas of our game. You can see that," he said in the post-game press conference after the win over Fiji.

"They jumped us a bit at the start and we put a bit of pressure on ourselves and you can't do that to the teams we're playing."

In team news, New Zealand has recalled Moses Leota into its squad after the Panthers prop battled injuries throughout the opening few games of the tournament.

He replaces the more experienced Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, who misses out entirely, having previously been unavailable due to suspension and also battled a hamstring injury.

Dallin Watene-Zelezniak is also back in the frame for selection after being sidelined last week with a hamstring issue.

As for Australia, Reagan Campbell-Gillard and Ben Hunt return to the side after being rested from last week's win over Lebanon, seeing Daly Cherry-Evans drop out.

"Once again it has been extremely difficult to leave out players who have performed very well in our colours," Kangaroos coach Mal Meninga said.

"This is our most important game of the World Cup for us and a great challenge against the calibre of the NZ side."

It will certainly need to be an improved performance for Australia, with Meninga even admitting post-game last week that his team was "a bit clunky" with the ball in the 48-4 win.

"But the ruck speed wasn't great," he added at the time.

"We are getting used to that sort of stuff. I was happy with the effort."

Australia certainly has the advantage over New Zealand when it comes to the head-to-head record, with the Kangaroos winning 14 of 15 World Cup matches against the Kiwis.

Australia's last defeat to its trans-Tasman rivals came back in 2008, going down 34-20 in the final at Suncorp Stadium on that occasion.

This will admittedly be the first time these two countries have met in the World Cup since the 2013 final, which saw the Kangaroos prevail 34-2.

Cherry-Evans was set to be the only remaining Australian player still in the team from that game but he has since been omitted, replaced by the more versatile Hunt on the bench.

Last RLWC meeting: 2013 Final - Kangaroos 34 Kiwis 2

Australia triumphed 34-2 in the World Cup final at Old Trafford in 2013. The nations didn't meet in the 2017 tournament, and they last met in any international in Wollongong in 2019, with Australia victorious on that occasion.

Who to watch: The Harry Grant-Ben Hunt combination worked wonders for Queensland in State of Origin and has also been successful for Australia during this year's World Cup campaign. New Zealand will certainly come out fast in Saturday morning's game so as to not quickly fall behind and have to play catch-up. So that will put more focus on Grant, the starting hooker, who has already proven himself this tournament to be one of Australia's more creative players. The scheming Grant already has four try assists, two linebreak assists, 11 tackle busts and two linebreaks from his three games. He has been a constant threat out of dummy-half and in an Australian side brimming with talent, continues to keep the opposition guessing in defence with his ability to both run, pass and even kick if needed.

Australia has put on an attacking masterclass this World Cup, scoring 40-plus points in all four games. New Zealand though has its own backline weapon in Joey Manu and the Roosters centre could be just what the Kiwis need to blow this game open. Manu has been at his devastating best this World Cup, with a tournament-high 49 tackle busts to go with 876 metres from 91 runs. He was particularly lethal against Fiji, running for a whopping 347 metres to go with a try and 12 tackle busts. Bringing the ball up from fullback, Manu could put on a show in open space.

The favourite: Australia is well-backed to progress through to the final.

My tip: This is certainly Australia's greatest test but the class in the halves should prove the difference. Kangaroos by 18.

1. James Tedesco 4. Valentine Holmes 8. Latrell Mitchell 10. Jack Wighton 9. Josh Addo-Carr 7. Cameron Munster 14. Nathan Cleary 5. Jake Trbojevic 3. Ben Hunt 6. Reagan Campbell-Gillard 17. Angus Crichton 21. Liam Martin 24. Isaah Yeo 20. Harry Grant 11. Cameron Murray 13. Patrick Carrigan 18. Tino Fa'asuamaleaui 2. Daly Cherry-Evans

1. Joseph Manu 2. Ronaldo Mulitalo 4. Peta Hiku 21. Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad 5. Jordan Rapana 6. Dylan Brown 7. Jahrome Hughes 8. Jesse Bromwich 9. Brandon Smith 10. James Fisher-Harris 11. Isaiah Papali'i 17. Briton Nikora 13. Joseph Tapine 14. Kieran Foran 15. Moses Leota 16. Nelson Asofa-Solomona 20. Isaac Liu 12. Kenny Bromwich

Referees: Ashley Klein; Sideline Officials: Warren Turley, Wyatt Raymond; Video Referees: Chris Kendall;

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