New Zealand v Scotland preview
New Zealand v Scotland
Derwent Park Stadium, Workington
Friday 8pm (9am Saturday NZDT, 7am Saturday AEDT)
I know what you're thinking.
New Zealand win this – and win it comfortably – and barring some English miracle secure their place in the Four Nations final to be played at famed Anfield next weekend.
But look a little deeper and the equation is more complex than it may first appear.
Scotland stunned the powerful English team to score the opening two tries of the game last weekend and were very much in the contest until midway through the second half.
In the match that followed in the historic double-header at Coventry, New Zealand gifted the Kangaroos a 10-point start and spent the majority of the game holding on for dear life before launching some late attacking raids that almost saw them snatch victory.
With Lachlan Coote at fullback to complement the classy Danny Brough at five-eighth, the Scots have two playmakers able to create opportunities and with centres in Kane Linnett and Euan Aitken on their outsides, hard-running big bodies capable of pushing through any defence.
New Zealand coach David Kidwell has named four debutants for his country's second meeting with the Bravehearts including regular winger Dallin Watene-Zelezniak at fullback. David Fusitu'a, James Fisher-Harris and Joseph Tapine also earn their first international caps.
The greatest challenge facing the Scots will be to contain a Kiwi forward pack that will feature rampaging hit-up after rampaging hit-up – even in the absence of Jason Taumalolo – and the time and space that will afford the freakish talents of Shaun Johnson.
You wouldn't back the Scots with your mother-in-law's money but if they can land a couple of early blows as they did against England the Kiwis might look wobbly for long periods of this game.
Scotland captain Danny Brough will join Andrew Henderson as the Bravehearts' most capped players when he runs out for his 22nd Test.
Watch out Kiwis: He may be under-appreciated by those in the NRL outside of Townsville but Kane Linnett has become a cornerstone of the Scottish team in the past three years. A whole-hearted performer, Linnett brings stability to a position that can often prove to be a team's defensive undoing. The Cowboys left centre ran for an equal game-high of 177 metres against England last week, made two line breaks and scored his second Test try, his combination with Lachlan Coote on the left edge proving to be a handy weapon. After a horror night against the Kangaroos Shaun Kenny-Dowall has been replaced by Gerard Beale, whose defensive strengths will be all important in trying to keep Linnett under wraps.
Watch out Bravehearts: Energy early in the contest won't be an issue for Scotland but matching the power that will be unleashed from the Kiwi bench looms as their greatest challenge. Martin Taupau's game is built on only two gears – stop and flat-out – and Kidwell will have two dynamic youngsters in James Fisher-Harris and Joseph Tapine clawing at the pine as they wait to make their international debuts. Fisher-Harris was among the leading contenders in the outstanding rookie class of 2016 while Tapine's first year in Canberra gave a greater insight into the ball-playing skills he possesses and his footwork on the edges. If those three see game time late in the first half the Bravehearts will have a hard time containing the likes of Issac Luke, Shaun Johnson and Solomone Kata.
Key match-up: Jesse Bromwich v Adam Walker. It's a mis-match in the middle of the park so if Scotland are to push New Zealand to the 80th minute then prop Adam Walker needs to lead the way by going toe-to-toe with Kiwi skipper Jesse Bromwich. By running for 124 metres in a 67-minute performance against England last week, Walker become the first Scottish forward to break through the 100-metre mark in the tournament to date. Bromwich on the other hand racked up 172m against England and 131m against the Kangaroos and with a Four Nations final at stake, will lead again the only way he knows how.
History: Played 1; New Zealand 1, Scotland 0. The only previous meeting between these two nations was in the quarter-finals of the 2013 Rugby League World Cup but incredibly there are only three Kiwis lining up on Saturday who took the field in their 40-4 win. For the Bravehearts, there are nine survivors from that World Cup defeat to the Kiwis with the additions of NRL stars Lachlan Coote and Euan Aitken bolstering their squad for this tournament.
Match officials: Referee: B Cummins; Touch Judges: J Child and C Kendall; Video Referee: B Thaler; Reserve Referee: G Sutton.
Televised: Channel Nine – Live from 6.30am AEDT
How we see it: You're right, New Zealand will win. They are simply too big and too strong for the gallant Scots to contain over 80 minutes which will give the likes of Luke and Johnson the opportunities they need to put a flood of points on late. The Bravehearts will test them and Billy McConnachie will give as good as he gets when he comes off the bench but ultimately class will shine through, as it tends to do. The big question will be whether the Kiwis can put in the type of display that will instil the necessary confidence to go on and win the final. Kiwis by 24 points.