Build-up bodes well for underdone Kangaroos
CLEARLY the Kangaroos will be underdone going into next weekend's World Cup final but after nine months of continuous football that could well be a plus.
For coach Tim Sheens' men the tournament has been a walk in the park.
Since their opening clash against England they have not had a try scored against them in more than six hours of football, and have won their past three matches to nil, averaging a touch under 60 points a game.
The Kiwis - Australia's opponent in the Old Trafford final in the early hours next Sunday - have been on a similar point-scoring spree in an event that has been widely criticised as a lopsided joke. But they were jolted right back to reality yesterday morning by the gallant English.
So the question is: Which team is better prepared? Is it the Kangaroos who have conceded just four tries in 400 minutes of play, or the Kiwis who won their way into the final with a try 20 seconds from time?
Psychologically, it probably is New Zealand.
The euphoria of that last-gasp win was palpable, while at the end of their game the Kangaroos seemed more absorbed with saying goodbye to former teammate Petero Civoniceva than celebrating their success.
But the Kangaroos could not have done more, and keeping their line intact in four successive games is an impressive achievement, even against the minnows.
It indicates a genuine commitment and pride, especially at the end of a long season. It also expels talk of a fractured team because of State of Origin rivalry.
In past end-of-season tournaments such as World Cups and Tri-Nations, the Kiwis have built strongly with games under their belt. That does not appear as obvious this time.
Their combinations against England were not as dominant, particularly the union between halves Kieran Foran and Shaun Johnson. And livewire dummy half Isaac Luke was clearly below his best.
Conversely, the Kangaroos have looked sharp for most of this tournament.
Teamwork has been top shelf and defensive commitment spot on, albeit against a lack of genuine class.
The challenge for Sheens now is whether to change a winning combination.
His selection of Jarryd Hayne in the centres for the past two matches has been a masterstroke, with the Parramatta champion scoring seven tries in his new position. And while not as dominant as he can be, Greg Inglis is threatening and commanding at fullback.
With his forward pack obviously settled - pending the fitness of Greg Bird - the fate of Billy Slater now becomes the talking point.
Does Sheens dare leave him out? He will surely be very tempted.