Kangaroos 'face big test in World Cup' - Sports News - Fanatics - the world's biggest events

Kangaroos 'face big test in World Cup'

20/10/2008 06:44:05 PM Comments (0)

Australian captain Darren Lockyer has warned the tournament favourites would be rusty and lack cohesion for their important Rugby League World Cup opener against New Zealand on Sunday.

The Kangaroos squad boasts eight debutants and haven't played a trial game while the Kiwis have had two warm up clashes prior to their Sydney Football Stadium encounter.

Lockyer, playing his first Test in over 18 months, says Australia won't be at their cohesive best on Sunday but would still look to make a statement.

"I think we want to set a bit of a precedent with our performance. We want to go out there and want to play tough," said Lockyer.

"We haven't played together for a long while and we are going to be a bit rusty.

"Cohesion is always the hardest thing to get going whenever you get into a rep team.

"I just can't see us having a polished performance this weekend because it is going to be our first game together. The key for us is we want to go out there and play tough."

Lockyer says it will be easier for the Kangaroos to get back into the groove because the likely starters in key positions - fullback Billy Slater, himself at five-eighth, halfback Johnathan Thurston and hooker Cameron Smith - have won State of Origins together for Queensland and possess a strong bond formed over several years.

But defence will be key to beating New Zealand, particularly with five-eighth Benji Marshall in outstanding touch after leading the Kiwis to a 56-8 romp over Tonga in a warm up game in Auckland on Sunday.

Lockyer is wary of Marshall but says cutting his quality of supply is more important than stopping the man himself.

"When Benji is confident he is a pretty dangerous prospect," said Lockyer.

"(But) he doesn't need to fire I wouldn't have thought.

"If we allow them to get some offloads away and get on the front foot then Benji is dangerous then.

"But if we can do our part in making sure we're getting up in their faces and getting our tackles and don't allow that second phase football then it's going to be a bit easier for us."

Australia are rated $1.20 favourites to retain the World Cup and claim their seventh title in succession some eight years after they last hoisted the silverware in England.

The Kiwis ($6.50) are second favourites but have never won in the 12 previous tournaments.

"There is always confidence in the Kiwi team, it is just a matter of doing the job under pressure," said skipper Nathan Cayless.

England ($7.00) are considered the only other genuine title threats and will open the tournament on Saturday night with a tricky clash with Papua New Guinea in Townsville.

England won't take the Kumuls lightly and Lions skipper Jamie Peacock is adamant his side can't afford to enter the game thinking they can send a message to the Kangaroos or Kiwis with a dominant win.

"I don't think we can make a statement in any first game," said Peacock.

"If we don't play well we are facing a potential banana skin."

The top three from Australia's pool with New Zealand, England and PNG qualify for the semi-finals.

France, Fiji and Scotland battle in Pool 2 and Ireland, Tonga and Samoa contest Pool 3 where the winners of each group will face off for a place in the semi-finals.

Ireland, Scotland and Fiji are rated $501 outsiders but even they harbour dreams of massive upsets.

"We are willing to roll the sleeves up and have a dig. We are not here to make the numbers up," said Irish captain Scott Grix.

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