History and favouritism will go out the window when the rugby league World Cup final kicks off in Brisbane on Saturday night, Australian assistant coach John Cartwright says.
The Kangaroos are overwhelming favourites to beat New Zealand and retain the trophy they have held for the past 33 years.
But Cartwright said he and coach Ricky Stuart had emphasised to the players that bookmakers’ odds didn’t win games.
“You have to turn up in the right frame of mind,” he said.
“It’s a grand final and, to me and the players, there is no favourite in a grand final.”
Australia go into the encounter not having lost to New Zealand in the past eight trans-Tasman tests.
They have also won all 13 World Cup meetings with the Kiwis going back to the first tournament in 1954, including the 1988 and 2000 finals.
The clash between the teams in the opening round of the present competition ended in a decisive 30-6 scoreline.
But Cartwright believed the Kiwis had had the better preparation leading into the final.
They had had two tough matches against England over the past fortnight, while the Kangaroos faced minor nations Papua New Guinea and Fiji.
The Lions had gone into the twin contests against New Zealand having been swamped 52-4 by Australia and looking for redemption.
“They were very desperate for the last two games,” Cartwright said of England.
“They got a bit of a bagging after they played the Aussies and they wanted a bit of credibility.”
He said New Zealand had another an advantage in apparently having no injury problems going into the decider.
Australia, on the other hand, have had to withdraw their two New Zealand Warriors, prop Steve Price and winger Brent Tate, while backrower Paul Gallen, recovering from a corked thigh, wasn’t taken off the the doubtful list until yesterday.
Price, who had been in excellent form during the tournament, is a major and unexpected loss, tearing his left calf muscle during a routine drill at the team’s final training yesterday.
His replacement will be named tomorrow.
Tate was ruled out a day earlier because of the hip injury he suffered in the semifinal against Fiji and his spot has gone to Manly’s David Williams.
Skipper Darren Lockyer, who was briefly under the weather himself midweek with a sore throat, agreed that the Kiwis had had the better preparation.
While PNG and Fiji had been physical opponents, they didn’t quite have the skill and structure that Australia would face tonight.
“Since that first game where we won pretty easily, they have come a long way, the Kiwis,” he said.
“We’ve improved but the Kiwis have probably improved more than we have.”