FOUR NATIONS FINAL – NEW ZEALAND v AUSTRALIA, 8:00pm, Saturday 15 November, Westpac Trust Stadium, Wellington
Tim Sheens has effectively named an unchanged side, with Ben Hunt, Josh Jackson and David Klemmer likely to be retained from the Kangaroos’ extended bench ahead of Robbie Farah, Aidan Guerra and Ryan Hoffman.
Although not named in the 20-man squad, Beau Scott will be given until game-day to prove his fitness – but the veteran is unlikely to recover from his hamstring injury in time.
The only change to the Kiwis’ side is the omission of Thomas Leuluai with a shoulder injury; Lewis Brown – unlucky to be left out of the England clash – has been named as the bench utility in his place. Gerard Beale and Bodene Thompson have been included on an extended bench.
Here’s how the sides shape up, including key stats from the Four Nations round-robin matches:
Fullback – Greg Inglis v Peta Hiku
Inglis left the field at halftime of the opening clash with the Kiwis, a significant factor in the 30-12 loss – but he has been virtually unstoppable when on the paddock. Hiku has been one of the Kiwis’ best and most consistent performers, running strongly and cleaning up superbly at the back.
Tries: Inglis – 4; Hiku – 0.
Tackle-breaks: Hiku – 11; Inglis – 8.
Ave Metres: Hiku – 149; Inglis – 96.
Wing – Josh Mansour v Jason Nightingale
Mansour has been solid throughout the tournament, while he chalked up over 200 metres and a try against Samoa. The unfashionable Nightingale recovered from an early bombed try against Australia to score in each game, while he was named man-of-the-match after his two-try display against England.
Tries: Nightingale – 4; Mansour – 1.
Ave Possessions: Nightingale – 18; Mansour – 16.
Ave Metres: Mansour – 146; Nightingale – 137.
Centre – Michael Jennings v Dean Whare
This shapes as a key battle. Whare has had limited opportunities with the ball but showed his class with a brilliant assist for Nightingale’s second try against England, while he has been excellent defensively. Jennings has been one of the tournament’s most dangerous ball-runners and dominated in-form Joey Leilua last week.
Tries: Jennings – 1; Whare – 1.
Ave Metres: Jennings – 115; Whare – 42.
Ave Tackles: Whare – 14; Jennings – 13.
Centre – Dylan Walker v Shaun Kenny-Dowall
Walker endured a torrid debut after being pitched into the fullback role against the Kiwis but has been strong at centre. Kenny-Dowall has been highly involved, and while he struggled to handle Leilua, the Rooster eventually scored the winning try in the lucky win over Samoa.
Tries: Kenny-Dowall – 1; Walker – 0.
Ave Metres: Kenny-Dowall – 97; Walker – 66.
Ave Tackles: Kenny-Dowall – 14; Walker – 11.
Wing – Sione Mata’utia v Manu Vatuvei
Mata’utia was caught out by Ryan Hall on debut, but the 18-year-old bounced back in that match and was superb against Samoa, making a line-break to lay on Australia’s first try. After being left out of the Kangaroos encounter, Vatuvei has been his usual rocks-or-diamonds self, racking up huge metres with his trademark charges and coming up with big plays, but also being caught out defensively and making several handling errors. He will inevitably be targeted by the Kangaroos.
Tries: Vatuvei – 1; Mata’utai – 0.
Ave Possessions: Vatuvei – 18.5; Mata’utia – 11.5.
Ave Metres: Vatuvei – 154; Mata’utia – 119.
Five-eighth – Daly Cherry-Evans v Kieran Foran
A fascinating showdown between Manly’s superstar halves. Foran has been magnificent throughout the tournament, while Cherry-Evans put an ordinary game against the Kiwis behind him to conjure the match-winner against England and star in the big defeat of Samoa.
Tries: Cherry-Evans – 1; Foran – 1.
Try Assists: Cherry-Evans – 1; Foran – 1.
Ave Tackles: Cherry-Evans – 17; Foran – 14.
Halfback – Cooper Cronk v Shaun Johnson
Johnson was an emphatic man-of-the-match against Australia, and while patchy in the subsequent two games, he has produced the big plays and his running game has been consistently dangerous. Cronk was shut down effectively by the Kiwis and was quiet against England, but exploded with two tries in a dominant display against Samoa. The key individual match-up of the final.
Tries: Cronk – 2; Johnson – 1.
Try Assists: Cronk – 1; Johnson – 1.
Ave Kick Metres: Cronk – 410; Johnson – 283.
Hookers – Cameron Smith v Isaac Luke
Suspended from the tournament opener, Luke’s running game has been typically dangerous in the subsequent two matches, although he played just 45 minutes against England. Smith’s impact was limited against the Kiwis, but he has been brilliant since and tireless defensively throughout the tournament.
Tackles: Smith – 40; Luke – 20.
Ave Possessions: Smith – 91; Luke – 74.
Ave Metres: Luke – 58.5; Smith – 43.
Props – Aaron Woods & Josh Papalii v Adam Blair & Jesse Bromwich
Australia’s only specialist prop against the Kiwis, Woods was superb on debut, while he has been outstanding with better support in the Kangaroos’ subsequent games. Papalii was strong off the bench in the opening two matches before a fine performance as starting prop against Samoa. Arguably the standout prop of the tournament, Bromwich’s work-rate has been unbelievable, while Blair’s renaissance has continued – aggressive, dynamic and highly involved.
Ave Possessions: Bromwich – 22; Woods – 15; Blair – 15; Papalii – 13.
Ave Metres: Bromwich – 142; Woods – 114; Papalii – 104; Blair – 65.
Ave Tackles: Woods – 29; Blair – 28; Bromwich – 28; Papalii – 24.
Second-rowers – Sam Thaiday & Greg Bird v Simon Mannering & Kevin Proctor
Selected at prop in the opening two games before reverting to the second-row, Thaiday has toiled hard, while Bird has been arguably Australia’s best forward, starring in attack. Mannering has been a workhorse as per usual and has chimed in impressively on offence. Proctor terrorised the Kangaroos, and while he has been quieter with the ball since, he has been the busiest Kiwi defender of the Four Nations.
Ave Possessions: Mannering – 21; Bird – 17; Thaiday – 12; Proctor – 10.
Ave Metres: Bird – 124; Mannering – 120; Proctor – 62; Thaiday – 62.
Ave Tackles: Proctor – 34; Mannering – 31; Thaiday – 29; Bird – 25.
Lock – Corey Parker v Jason Taumololo
Unsurprisingly, Parker has racked up big numbers on both sides of the ball and has been one of Australia’s most valuable forwards. Taumololo has been an unstoppable wrecking ball, breaking tackles at will in limited minutes – a real danger-man that the Kangaroos must contain.
Ave Possessions: Parker – 21; Taumololo – 13.
Ave Metres: Taumololo – 128; Parker – 124.
Ave Tackles: Parker – 26; Taumololo – 13.
Ben Hunt v Lewis Brown
Brown starred with a superb dummy-half try against Australia and was unlucky to miss out on the side to play England. Hunt scored a vital try on debut against England and looks at home at Test level. While primarily there as dummy-half cover, both offer outstanding versatility in different areas.
Ave Minutes: Brown – 26.5; Hunt – 23.5.
Ave Possessions: Hunt – 37.5; Brown – 33.5.
Ave Tackles: Brown – 14; Hunt – 9.5.
Boyd Cordner, Josh Jackson & David Klemmer v Greg Eastwood, Martin Taupau & Tohu Harris
Cordner has played more minutes than most of the starting forwards and has contributed strongly, while Klemmer has made an enormous impact in two games – including a barnstorming try against Samoa – and Jackson failed to make much of an imprint on debut against Samoa. Eastwood remains a genuine game-breaker off the bench, Taupau has been aggressive and powerful, while Harris has been a revelation for the Kiwis, proving he deserves his spot after Sonny Bill Williams’ infamous back-flip prior to last year’s World Cup.
Ave Minutes: Cordner – 65; Harris – 49; Eastwood – 37.5; Klemmer – 32.5; Jackson – 29; Taupau – 29.
Ave Metres: Harris – 118; Klemmer – 114.5; Cordner – 106; Taupau – 72; Eastwood – 72; Jackson – 24.
Ave Tackles: Harris – 29; Cordner – 24.5; Klemmer – 19.5; Taupau – 13; Eastwood – 13; Jackson – 11.
Coaches: Tim Sheens v Stephen Kearney
Sheens has had to ward off suggestions he should be dumped if Australia fails to win the tournament, while the Kiwis’ unbeaten run to the final has probably saved Kearney from that fate.
Overall: Sheens – 29 Tests (26W, 2L, 1D); Kearney – 34 Tests (18W, 15L, 1D).
Head to Head: 14 Tests (Sheens 11W, Kearney 2W, 1D).