Kangaroos greats Braith Anasta and Cooper Cronk have warned New Zealand’s pack can knock Australia out of the World Cup.
The rival nations are on a collision course to meet in the semis in what Greg Alexander dubbed “the real final”.
The winner will likely play host nation England in the final at Manchester United’s home ground Old Trafford on November 20 AEDT.
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The Kiwis will roll out their full-strength side for the first time at the tournament in their final group game against Ireland on Saturday AEDT.
Dylan Brown, Jahrome Hughes, Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, Jesse Bromwich and Joseph Tapine all return for the clash.
“They’ve got Jahrome back at halfback, Dylan Brown at five-eighth, with Joey Manu at the back, it’s incredible,” Alexander said.
“And then Brandon Smith at hooker – it’s a very strong lineup. Jared is important too, his frontrow play for the Roosters this year was incredible.”
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Anasta warned Australia’s backline must fire in the knockout stages because he’s expecting the New Zealand forwards to dominate.
“I believe their pack is even better than the Aussie pack at their best. I think New Zealand’s pack can get over the top of the Aussies in that semi-final,” Anasta said.
“That’s why it’s important that the spine is back this week, you talk about combinations for Australia and Mal mixing his combinations because he has a luxury of riches.
“New Zealand don’t quite have that, now they get their gun players in key positions and they need those combinations playing.
“Joey Manu doesn’t play much fullback although he’s an absolute freak and close to the player of the tournament.
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“And their halves, Hughes back from a hamstring and Brown, it’s a combination that could be a formidable one and it needs to be for them to win the World Cup and they can do it.”
Cooper Cronk – who was the Kangaroos halfback when they won the 2017 World Cup – believes this Kiwi said has a shot at history.
“I think it’s one of the better New Zealand teams that they’ve ever produced,” he said.
“You think about the spine, Brown and Hughes and Manu and then the forward pack, Hargreaves, Harris, Bromwich, Nelson, Tapine.
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“That pack in itself can go toe for toe with anyone. The Kiwis won the World Cup in 2008 with a pretty star-studded team and this one on paper has the ability to be one of the better teams New Zealand has produced.
“If they can perform and ultimately play Australia in the semi-final and beat them, well history beckons.
“We talk about star power, the one thing New Zealand really need to get right to win this World Cup is defence.
“They’ve got attacking flair all over but if they can get a rock-solid defensive wall, they just might be able to do it.”
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