RLWC 2017 preview: Can New Zealand reclaim the tag of world’s best?

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    Jesse Bromwich and teammate Kevin Proctor are alleged to have purchase cocaine after the Anzac Test (NRL Photos)

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    New Zealand has won every major international rugby league tournament held in the Southern Hemisphere over the last decade. That includes the last time the World Cup was held down under, in 2008, plus the 2010 and 2014 editions of the four nations.

    The Kiwis will no doubt be wanting to continue their streak as they aim to become of world champions for the second time.

    New Zealand Kiwis

    RLIF World Ranking: 2
    Best Result: Champions (2008)
    2013 Finish: Runners-up
    2017 RLWC Odds: $9

    New Zealand is one of three nations that have appeared in every single RLWC.

    It took 13 attempts for the Kiwis to finally be crowned world champions in 2008 and they put in a solid defence of their title in 2013.

    A year after relinquishing their title, they went through the 2014 four nations tournament and defeated Australia in Wellington to claim not only the silverware but also the title of the world’s best team.

    The following year they defeated Australia for the third consecutive time during the 2015 ANZAC Test, shifting the power of the rugby league world.

    A 2-1 series loss to England in 2015 asked some questions before three losses to Australia in 2016, including a thumping in the four nations final, saw the Kiwis lose the number one ranking.

    Over the past decade, New Zealand have been much more competitive during major tournaments than one-off matches, however, the off-field issues stemming from the Jesse Bromwich and Kevin Proctor incident appear to be still having an impact on the team now.

    It’s amazing how fortunes can change in less than 12 months. Just over a year ago New Zealand were ranked the number one team in the World and, all of a sudden, now find themselves under siege in a World Cup on home soil.

    David Kidwell has made a stand of embedding the right ethics and culture into the Kiwi setup and that has led to him foregoing the services of some of his key personnel.

    This sees the co-hosts go into this tournament with their backs against the wall.

    Team Line Up
    1. Roger Tuivasa-Sheck
    2. Dallin Watene-Zelezniak
    3. Gerard Beale
    4. Brad Takairangi
    5. Jordan Rapana
    6. Kodi Nikorima
    7. Shaun Johnson
    8. Martin Taupau
    9. Thomas Leuluai
    10. Adam Blair (c)
    11. Kenny Bromwich
    12. Joseph Tapine
    13. Simon Mannering

    14. Nelson Asofa-Solomona
    15. Russell Packer
    16. Isaac Liu
    17. Danny Levi

    Squad Members: Addin Fonua-Blake, Peta Hiku, Te Maire Martin, Jason Nightingale, Elijah Taylor, Jared Warea-Hargreaves, Dean Whare

    Most of the media focus to date has been on the players that are missing rather than those that form the side, although David Kidwell has still named a strong side that is capable of delivering the big one.

    A lot will rest on the shoulders of established superstars such as Shaun Johnson, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, Martin Taupau and Simon Mannering if the Kiwis are to progress far in this tournament.

    Key Player
    Shaun Johnson won’t only be the player to watch as a neutral, he’ll be the player that New Zealand’s hopes hang on.

    The individual brilliance from Johnson can turn games and his performances in the black jersey have been some of the best of his career. Just look back at highlights of both the last RLWC and the 2014 four nations.

    Johnson was the recipient of the Golden Boot as the best player in the world only a few seasons ago and even his harshest critics would agree that, when at his best, he is the most entertaining player in the game.

    Fixtures and Opponents
    All times AEDT

    Opponent Venue Kick-Off
    Samoa Mt Smart Stadium Sat. Oct 28, 6:10pm
    Scotland Christchurch Stadium Sat. Nov 4, 3pm
    Tonga Waikato Stadium, Hamilton Sat. Nov 11, 3pm

    Key Match
    Based on what I’ve written already, the match against Tonga is going to be an unmissable event for sports fans.

    The choices made by certain players as to where their loyalties lie will ensure there is plenty of feeling within both camps. In terms of intensity, you can almost guarantee this will be one of, if not the most, brutal and physical games during the 2017 World Cup.

    Players have let their feelings be known and this match will be the moment to let their action do the talking. The Kiwis will be intent to send out a message however, emotions aside, this match against Tonga may carry even more significance as, depending on other results, it could very well decide who tops Group B.

    If you’re only a casual rugby league fan and planning to watch just a handful of games during this RLWC, make sure this mouth-watering clash is one of them!

    RLWC 2017 Prospects
    David Kidwell has set the standard he expects of those representing New Zealand both on and off the field and it appears the media storm created may have bought the Kiwi squad even closer together.

    They have an undisputed record in tournaments held within the Southern Hemisphere for the past decade which can’t be ignored.

    The Kiwi spirit and mana are likely to be on show during this World Cup and the ‘us against the world’ mentality that appears to be gathering momentum in camp is the perfect platform for a World Cup ambush to replicate the feats of 2008.