The Kangaroos believe the Kiwis’ tougher path to the rugby league World Cup final will give them an edge in Brisbane on Saturday night.

The New Zealanders are coming off two encounters with the tournament’s other major nation, England, with both contests providing a stern examination.

Over the same weekends, the Australians have been largely untroubled in claiming the expected big victories over Papua New Guinea and Fiji.

Kangaroos centre Israel Folau said today that both PNG and Fiji were physical opponents, but they didn’t possess the tactical awareness of New Zealand or England.

“We haven’t had the best preparation going into a final,” he said.

“Certainly the physical side of things was there, but we’re going to get a lot thrown at us this week in terms of skill level and structure.”

Australia and New Zealand met in the first round of the pool stages, with the Kangaroos scoring a decisive 30-6 victory and Folau grabbing two of their five tries.

Folau said the Kiwis would be a much improved side after their own big win over the PNG and two clashes with England.

“They’re going to come out pretty fired up,” he said.

“We just have to be on our toes and be ready for it.”

Folau, who is about to move from Melbourne as a prime acquisition by the Brisbane Broncos, identified the New Zealand pack, containing Storm teammates Adam Blair, Sika Manu and Jeremy Smith, as a particular strength.

“It’s somewhere where we have to stop their momentum,” he said.

“If we stop that, it doesn’t give their outside backs the chance to do their thing.”

Still just 19, Folau has had a meteoric rise since he began his first-grade career in Melbourne’s opening match of last season.

He went on to make his test debut six months later in Australia’s 58-0 drubbing of the Kiwis in Wellington.

His feats were recognised at the Rugby League International Federation’s inaugural player-of-the-year awards in Brisbane last night, when he was named centre of the year and rookie of the year.

The latter prize was for a player who gained his first test cap during the year that ended with the National Rugby League and the English Super League grand finals last month.

Despite having also appeared in two NRL grand finals, including a winning one last year, and been part of Queensland’s State of Origin series victory this year, Folau said there would still be butterflies before the cup final.

“There’s obviously going to be nerves on Saturday, but I just have to try to control them and go out there and just perform well,” he said.

“I just try to relax a bit and not think about the game too much. When I step on the field, that’s the time to switch on.”

Earlier this week, Australian coach Ricky Stuart also contrasted the difference between the Kangaroos’ and the Kiwis’ passage to the final, saying New Zealand had had “a terrific preparation”.

He said the Kiwis would improve from their semifinal victory over England and he was hoping for the same from his players after their 52-0 win over Fiji.

The Kangaroos have injury concerns over winger Brent Tate, who suffered a hip flexor injury against Fiji, and backrower Paul Gallen, who missed the player-of-the-year dinner to get treatment on his right thigh.

Both worked separately from the rest of the squad during the early part of training today before the session was closed to the media.