Rivals eye vital Four Nations opener - Sports News - Fanatics - the world's biggest events

Rivals eye vital Four Nations opener

By Nicky Park 14/10/2010 05:03:35 PM Comments (0)

It's not quite do or die, but Four Nations rivals England and New Zealand admit victory in their tournament opener will go a long way towards shoring up a berth in next month's final.

With Australia favoured to romp through the group stage and take one spot in the November 13 finale and Papua New Guinea facing a tough ask to stay competitive let alone win a game, England and New Zealand appear to be battling it out for the right to meet the Kangaroos at Suncorp Stadium.

The two sides square off in the tournament's first game in Wellington on Saturday week, with England coach Steve McNamara saying a Kiwis win would be crucial to progressing in the campaign.

"There's not much room for error when you only play three games in a competition," McNamara said.

"I think both sides will look to get off to a win and get the two points under their belt and probably put a little bit of pressure on the other teams in the competition."

With all their games being played at home, the Kiwis are favoured to advance to the final, but the 2008 World Cup champions would still be hurting after failing to make the decider in last year's Four Nations in the northern hemisphere.

Skipper Benji Marshall was refusing to write off any team's chances, but admitted the opener at Westpac Stadium would set the pace.

"Every game's important whether it's the first game or the last game," he said.'

"People are giving PNG no hope and if you don't turn up against them they can damage you.

"We're going to be ready to play every game but obviously this game against England is going to be a big game."

English backrower Sam Burgess - who proved his rampaging effort in last year's final loss was no fluke with a dominant NRL debut season with South Sydney season - also emphasised the importance of the Kiwi clash.

"We're going to have to take it step by step but I guess if we do beat the Kiwis then we've got a strong chance of making the finals," he said.

While the two teams will be enemies in just over a week, they worked together on Thursday to help promote a warm-up double-header in Auckland on Saturday night.

New Zealand will face a powerful Samoa line-up in a game which has been given official Test status, while England will take on a New Zealand Maori side that will feature Parramatta centre Timana Tahu.

The fact both sides have organised pre-tournament matches shows just how vital they see their first-up Four Nations clash, with McNamara hoping to overcome a history of slow starts to end-of-season tournaments.

"We've been a little bit rusty going in to the Four Nations over the last two years, our performances haven't been of a high standard in game one," the coach said.

"We've just assessed what we've done before and I felt like we could improve our preparation by playing a very tough and competitive game (ahead of the tournament)."

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