Following the Kiwis embarrassing 18-all draw with Scotland and three losses to the Kangaroos in 2016, it’s difficult to take the defending Four Nations champs as a serious threat ahead of this weekend’s final at Anfield.
We only have to go back to the 2005 Tri-Nations decider for a reminder that the Kiwis’ recent form can never be used as a barometer for the team that will show up on the night, however.
Despite defeating Australia in the ’05 tournament opener 38-28 in a Sydney thriller – with Clinton Toopi scoring a hat-trick for the second time against the Kangaroos – New Zealand went into the final at Elland Road, Leeds, as rank underdogs.
The Kiwis, coached by Auckland’s Brian ‘Bluey’ McClennan, were humbled 38-12 by Great Britain in their final preliminary game, while Australia coasted through to the final on the back of three straight wins (including a Darren Lockyer-inspired 28-26 victory against New Zealand in Auckland).
But New Zealand inflicted Australia’s first defeat in an international series since 1978 with an emphatic 24-0 shutout in one of the great Test boilovers.
Veteran Stacey Jones, who came out of international retirement to play in the Tri-Nations tournament, pulled the strings for the rampant Kiwis, while 19-year-old winger Manu Vatuvei scored a powerful double. Brent Webb and Paul Whatuira capped outstanding games with four-pointers.
The stunning result also represented New Zealand’s first series victory over Australia since 1953, and the first time the green-and-golds had been held scoreless in 20 years.
Kangaroos coach Wayne Bennett abdicated his role after the shock defeat, while five players – Anthony Minichiello, Trent Barrett, Craig Gower, Jason Ryles and Craig Wing – never played for Australia again.