It is straight down to business for the Kiwis this weekend as they open their 2016 Four Nations campaign, taking on host side England at an already sold-out John Smith’s Stadium in Huddersfield.
We look at the three big questions hovering over the New Zealand side ahead of the match.
Where will a second playmaking threat come from?
This has been the major question to come out of both of New Zealand’s last two Tests, and disturbingly from a Kiwi point of view, we are still no closer to finding an answer.
The obvious one is that more ball has to go in the direction of standoff Thomas Leuluai and the left edge, even if those opportunities don’t transfer into points immediately.
Winning the middle battle – which the Kiwis haven’t done in their last two Test defeats to Australia – will also help the likes of hooker Issac Luke and fullback Jordan Kahu get more involved in the ball-playing.
Whoever it may be, the Kiwis desperately need something more than just Shaun Johnson in attack, and if they can’t find it before the end of the 80 minutes in Huddersfield it’s likely their Four Nations campaign will be in dire straits.
Can the pack aim up against powerful England?
In the lead-up to the Perth Test against the Kangaroos, almost all of the pro-Kiwi talk centred around their superstar forward pack and how they could be the difference if the men in black and white were to get the win.
So much for that.
By the end of the game New Zealand had just one big man who had run for over 100 metres, with Martin Taupau clocking 129 off the bench, while on the other side every starting Kangaroo reached the 100-mark in yardage.
Broncos and Maroons bopper Sam Thaiday also managed it off the bench.
Against an England side featuring James Graham, the Burgess brothers and NRL-tested players such as Elliot Whitehead and Mike Cooper, it’s not going to get any easier for the New Zealand forwards.
There is no doubt the battle in the middle will go a long way to deciding this one, but do the Kiwis have it in them right now to get over England in that area?
All that talk about the Kiwis strength being their forwards… did they mean forward passes..? #RoosKiwis
— Graeme Lock (@hairyangryfella) October 15, 2016
What role will Jason Taumalolo play?
It’s amazing that in this hi-tech day and age, where coaches seem to be able to monitor a player’s every move on the field, that someone can be left forgotten about on the bench.
That appears to be exactly what happened to rookie coach David Kidwell in the Perth Test, as the NRL’s best player was left on the pine for the first 26 minutes of the second half.
Kidwell later owned up to his error, and has copped plenty of criticism for it, led by former Kangaroo-turned-TV-personality Matty Johns.
Matty Johns slams Kiwis coach David Kidwell for amateur mistakes: Kangaroos test great Matthew Johns has thro… https://t.co/orRHvdUkHP
— Rugby League (@RugbyLeagueFeed) October 17, 2016
In a team already lacking attacking options, Taumalolo’s role becomes even more important in the national side, and he probably needs to be playing at least three-quarters of the crunch matches against England and Australia.
At club level this year he averaged 53 minutes per game, playing over 55 minutes on eight occasions.
Plenty of eyes will be watching to see how many minutes the big No.13 gets on the field this weekend.
— 1 NEWS – Sport (@1NewsSportNZ) October 19, 2016