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Kiwis not in awe of Kangaroos: Benji

By Ian Mccullough 05/11/2010 07:44:04 PM Comments (0)

New Zealand captain Benji Marshall believes the Kiwis are no longer in the shadows of Australia ahead of Saturday's Four Nations clash at Eden Park.

The world champions go into the game slight favourites, with Kangaroos coach Tim Sheens resting skipper Darren Lockyer and fullback Billy Slater in two of seven changes to the side that beat England in Melbourne last Sunday.

Kiwis mentor Stephen Kearney has made just one switch to the side that hammered Papua New Guinea 76-12 last week, with Melbourne prop Adam Blair replacing young Penrith giant Sam McKendry.

The match is expected to draw a crowd of over 35,000 at the traditional home of rugby union in Auckland, in what will be the first meeting between the sides at Eden Park since the 1988 World Cup final.

The hosts also went into that game as favourites, having beaten the Kangaroos in Brisbane a year earlier, but a Wally Lewis-inspired Australia won 25-12.

Marshall was just three when that game was played, but did taste success in the World Cup final in 2008 and believes New Zealand have closed the gap on Australia, despite having not beaten their old rivals in three meetings since that memorable night in Brisbane.

"We have belief in our side at the moment and belief and confidence is a big part of football now," Marshall said.

"In the past we used to play little brother but now we feel we can be competitive and try and match them and most importantly beat them.

"We know it is a big ask, beating the Aussies, but we don't want to play little brother any more.

"For us it is about going out there and being confident we can perform."

Nobody knows the threat of Marshall better than Sheens, who coaches him at club level with Wests Tigers.

Despite not having the services of Johnathan Thurston, Jarryd Hayne, Greg Inglis and Justin Hodges - who were all unavailable for the tournament due to injury - Sheens is happy with his side, which will include four debutants in Matt Scott, Todd Carney, Chris Lawrence and Dean Young.

"It is a chance for all of these to step up, you never know how well a player will fare at this level until you give him a test, some players adapt better than others, we will just have to wait and see," Sheens told AAP.

"Benji is a great player and the amount of time he gets the ball in his hands will dictate a lot of how New Zealand play.

"But I think we are very strong at one, seven, six and nine, in (Darius) Boyd, (Cooper) Cronk, Carney and Cameron (Smith).

"It should be a great game, and although we are going to try one or two things out with one eye on the final next week, we are very keen to win."

Kearney refused to write off Sheens' side, and admits finding a weakness is not easy, despite the relative inexperience of the Kangaroos line-up.

"It is a tremendous looking side on paper and although there are four players making their debuts, one of them is a Queensland State of Origin player and two others have played in a grand final this year," he said.

"We will need to be at our best to beat them and if we go in there thinking we have the game won we are in danger of getting hurt."

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