Kangaroos coach Mal Meninga believes New Zealand will use their poor quarter final performance as “motivation” to prevail over Australia in their semi final clash at the Rugby League World Cup.
New Zealand confirmed a final-four showdown with Australia this Saturday morning in Leeds, only after surviving a major scare from Fiji in its quarter final last week.
A late try from Jordan Rapana sealed a come-from-behind 24-18 win for the Kiwis.
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New Zealand came into the World Cup as the No.1 Test nation despite winning just 14 of the last 28 Tests the team has played since 2015.
However, Meninga said the question marks surrounding the Kiwis will only make the side more dangerous as the players will have a point to prove against Australia.
“They probably got an awakening and it would’ve knocked their motivation back into place around the tournament,” he said.
“Without being disrespectful, it’s been a fairly easy ride for the top teams in this tournament and that (Fiji game) probably made them realise they needed to knuckle down and get ready for this [semi final].
“I’d be using it as motivation and if I were a player, I’d want to play to the best of my ability (after last week) and everyone has to.
“We are under no illusion to the challenge that’s in front of us, they’ve got a really good footy team who will want to play well.”
Australia’s captain James Tedesco suspected New Zealand had overlooked the No.6-ranked Fijians.
“They were probably looking to this game instead of focusing on that game and they weren’t at their best, but I know 100 per cent they’ll be ready to go this week,” he said.
“We’re expecting them to come out far and be at their best, for sure.
“It’s going to be our hardest challenge so far and it’s going to be an 80-minute game for us.”
Meninga named his 19-player squad on Wednesday but had already confirmed earlier in the week that demoted halfback Daly Cherry-Evans would not make the final line-up against the Kiwis.
After being rested, Ben Hunt has been recalled and will start at hooker with the plan to switch him out for Harry Grant once the rough-and-tumble opening stages of the game are over.
Recovering from a hamstring complaint, Reagan Campbell-Gillard has also been recalled for Australia to start at prop.
“[Campbell-Gillard] is the leader of the pack,” Meninga said.
“He’s looking forward to playing, he got unlucky the week before. He’s an important cog in our forward pack, he brings that aggression for us.”
Tedesco backed Campbell-Gillard to help contain New Zealand’s formidable forward pack which includes NRL enforcers Jared Waerea-Hargreaves and Joseph Tapine, and man mountain Nelson Asofa-Solomona.
“Reg is a massive in, he had a huge year for Parramatta,” he said.
“He’s just a leader that goes forward and when he carries the ball it makes everyone want to carry as hard as him.
“He leads by example and we missed him, but the Kiwis’ pack is very strong and it’s not just on Reg, it’s up to our whole pack to stand up to them and go after them.”
Tedesco also acknowledged that captaining Australia is “the highest honour” of his acclaimed career but said it was important not to put too much pressure on himself.
“I’ve learned that as captain, especially at Roosters and in Origin, you can carry the weight of the team sometimes,” he said.
“When I do that it hinders my performance, so I’ve learned over the past couple of years that being captain is just to be myself, play my footy and lead by my actions and my words.
“When I do that, that’s when I play my best and the team follows. I’ve definitely learned my lesson there.”
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