Bennett is the Kiwis World Cup X-factor - Sports News - Fanatics - the world's biggest events

Bennett is the Kiwis World Cup X-factor

By Wayne Heming 16/10/2008 12:57:10 PM Comments (0)

New Zealand may have lost destroyers Sonny Bill Williams, Roy Asotasi and Frank Pritchard.

But it still has the World Cup's X-factor.

Any side with Wayne Bennett plotting their fortunes as the Kiwis have this month must be treated with utmost respect.

Adviser Bennett's influence aside, the 24-man squad chosen for new coach and former Kiwi great Stephen Kearney is packed with power, pace and ample intimidation.

It also has its fair share of game-breakers in Benji Marshall and emerging South Sydney hooker Issac Luke.

But to add in someone of the stature of Bennett, who has coached Brisbane to six premierships, Queensland to numerous Origin triumphs and Australia to Test glory, was a master stroke.

Bennett has always been a fan of the physical Kiwis, their flair and skill.

Combine that with his proven ability to fortify teams and get players to dig deep and alarm bells should ring for opponents.

Bennett knows well what a New Zealand side can achieve if it produces its best football for 80 minutes.

He was in charge of the 2005 Kangaroos blown off Elland Road 24-0 by the Kiwis in Tri Nations final, ending Australia's long international winning streak.

Kiwi selectors have stuck with 14 of the 19 players who wore the black and white in the Centenary Test loss to Australia in Sydney in May.

Skipper Asotasi and powerhouse Pritchard are injured while Williams is missing after walking out on rugby league to play rugby union in France.

However Dragon Jason Nightingale, initially overlooked after making his debut in the Centenary Test, gained a late call up after Leeds-based fullback Brent Webb was ruled out following spinal surgery.

Webb - a 17-Test veteran - will be a big loss but Kearney has quality options with Lance Hohaia, who filled in superbly for the Warriors when Wade McKinnon was injured this season, Rooster Sam Perrett or exciting Parramatta youngster Krisnan Inu all capable of wearing the No.1 jumper at Test level.

Melbourne grand final prop Jeff Lima (knee) is another early casualty, replaced by Warriors front rower Evarn Tuimavave.

The Kiwis will have to sweat out a fitness battle with Manly's grand final hero Steve Matai, hoping his dodgy shoulder can last a few more weeks before surgery.

The fact that 15 of Kearney's 24-man squad were involved in the NRL finals indicates just how much quality and depth the Kiwis boast.

"A lot of our players were involved in the NRL finals and also the English Super League finals so they're in very good form," said Kearney.

"We've lost a few players which is to be expected at this time of the year but we've got more depth in key positions than we've had in previous years."

Parramatta's Nathan Cayless resumes the Kiwi captaincy from Asotasi, having filled the role in 2001 and again in 2004.

New Zealand, who've made two World Cup finals without winning, were on a huge high after former coach Brian "Bluey" McClennan masterminded their 2005 Leeds ambush over Bennett's Kangaroos.

The victory was no fluke.

Five weeks earlier they'd given Australian fair warning with a 38-28 upset in Sydney, so there could be no excuses for Bennett's men.

From pressing Australia for its No.1 world No.1 ranking in 2006, the Kiwis crashed with some poor results under McClennan's replacement, former Test player Gary Kemble.

Kemble stepped down earlier this year in the wake of some embarrassing losses and mounting threats of a senior player revolt.

The Kiwis are drawn in pool 1 along with Australia, England and PNG, which means they can't afford a slip up.

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