NRL Preview Australia v New Zealand Friday, May 6, 8pm (AEST), Hunter Stadium, Newcastle
Hunter Stadium hosts its first Test since 2011 when Australia and New Zealand do battle on Friday night in the traditional mid-season Anzac Test. New Aussie coach Mal Meninga will be keen to extend Australia’s traditional dominance of the mid-year Test while Stephen Kearney wants to reassert the Kiwis’ position at the top of the international tree.
Selection NotesMal Meninga has gone with an experienced team that includes veterans Cam Smith, Johnathan Thurston, Matt Scott, Paul Gallen and Corey Parker. Darius Boyd has won the hotly contested fullback spots with regular custodians Greg Inglis and Josh Dugan named in the centres. Four debutants have been named: wingers Semi Radradra and Blake Ferguson and benchmen Michael Morgan and Josh McGuire. Stephen Kearney has had his hand forced into dropping Ben Matulino and Manu Vatuvei while Issac Luke has also been overlooked. The Kiwis have also been hit hard by injury. A makeshift backline should see Peta Hiku at five-eighth, Tohu Harris in the centres and Jordan Kahu at the back. There is no questions over the pack though with some form players including Jesse Bromwich, Jason Taumalolo, Alex Glenn and Kevin Proctor.
HistoryAustralia and New Zealand have met in 130 Tests with Australia winning 95, New Zealand 32 and three drawn. The Kiwis have certainly had the best of it lately though with three straight wins including the 2014 Four Nations final – the first time since 1953 the Kiwis have won three straight against Australia. The Kangaroos have won 14 of 16 Anzac Tests, including 13 of 14 played in Australia. This is the third Test played between the Kangaroos and the Kiwis in Newcastle – Australia have won the previous two 37-10 and 42-6.
Form Australia are going through their worst patch in nearly 40 years, losing three of their last five Tests. The last time Australia lost three of five Tests was after back-to-back losses in France in 1978/79. The Kangaroos have played just one Test since the 2014 Four Nations, a 26-12 loss in the Anzac Test to New Zealand. Attack has been a major issue with 18 broken just once in their last five matches. New Zealand have won 6 of their last 8 Tests including the 2014 Four Nations final and the 2015 Anzac Test. An end-of-year tour of England, however, resulted in a 2-1 series defeat. The Kiwis have not conceded more than 26 points in their last eight Tests.
Rep Weekend Odds
Key Matchup Johnathan Thurston v Shaun Johnson. Thurston is the quintessential professional, a decorated star who never takes the international game for granted. He has been playing well this year but has slipped a little under the radar. He loves playing for his country though and will be looking to avenge some recent poor team performances. Johnson has had a stinker of a year. But Kiwi hopes rest on his shoulders. Without a recognised five-eighth and an inexperienced hooker and fullback, all attack will run through Johnson, who will need to rediscover his recent international form.
Stats That Matter The three Tests played at Hunter Stadium have tallied 98, 47 and 48 points. The last five – and 12 of the last 13 – Anzac Tests have been decided by a margin of 8 or more with the last three all decided by 12-plus. Australia have conceded 22-plus in their last three Tests against the Kiwis. Australia have been kept to a first-half score of 12 or less in 11 of their last 15 against New Zealand. The last six Tests between the two sides have topped 36 points. Australia have 12 players from teams in the Top 4 of the premiership and just one from a bottom four team. New Zealand have 8 players from Top 4 teams and three from bottom four teams.
Behind The Curtains
Final Thoughts The Kiwis have had the edge on Australia in recent matches and despite naming a disappointing team can upset the Kangaroos. Australia have of course named a formidable team but there were some arrogant selection decisions – particularly in the outside backs – and the Kiwis can exploit them. New Zealand’s pack more than matches Australia’s and if Shaun Johnson is on, the Kiwis should at least keep this close.