The Kiwis did just enough to get home against a spirited England side in their first game of the 2016 Four Nations last weekend, but the challenge jumps to another level when they face Australia this Sunday morning (NZT and AEDT).
Here are three burning questions ahead of the trans-Tasman Test in Coventry.
What effect will the bruising England meeting have?
The Kiwis’ 17-16 victory over England in Huddersfield was just as tough and closely-fought as the scoreline suggests.
The battle was brutal at times and the New Zealand medical staff have had the workload to prove it this week.
Both Jason Nightingale and Jared Waerea-Hargreaves are out injured, while numerous others were nursing bruised bodies this week as the Kiwis trained at the Manchester City Academy.
Thomas Leuluai didn’t finish the England game due to a head knock, but has recovered to be fit, in what is a major boost to New Zealand’s hopes of pulling off an upset result.
There will have been a full week between games, but will that be enough for New Zealand to get back into the type of shape needed to compete with a comparatively well-rested Australia?
— Michael Burgess (@mikeburgess99) November 1, 2016
Can Jason Taumalolo manage huge minutes and numbers again?
It makes sense that you would want to keep the NRL’s best player on the field for as long as possible, and against England Kiwis coach David Kidwell left his star No.13 on for all but three of the 80 minutes.
Taumalolo made great use of it, carrying the ball 24 times for 271 metres and serving as a constant menace to the hosts’ defensive line.
New Zealand could really use something similar against the Roos, but it remains to be seen if the Auckland-born monster can manage that workload in consecutive weeks.
At club level for the Cowboys this season he averaged 52 minutes per game, and played over 63 only once.
He said this week that he is up for big minutes again, but whether or not his body, and lungs, are up for it as well remains to be seen.
Is the NZ kicking game actually fixed?
The major area of improvement for New Zealand last week was in their last-tackle options and general-play kicking, which kept England coming off their own line set after set.
While they struggled at times just to get kicks away against the Kangaroos in Perth, the Kiwis forced six dropouts against England and were on point with most of their options late in tackle counts.
Much of that has to do with the improved confidence of Shaun Johnson, while he also got more help from a pack who won the middle battle and went forward in positive fashion for most of the match.
Australia appeared to hit the nail on the head when it came to pressuring Johnson last time they met, and it will be interesting to see if they can duplicate that plan this weekend.
Watch for New Zealand to mix it up a little this time, with Leuluai and even fullback Jordan Kahu getting involved in the kicking, which should keep Australia guessing and afford Johnson some more time to get boot to ball when it is his turn.
— NRL (@NRL) November 3, 2016