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New Zealand coach Michael Maguire has called for the Pacific Cup to extend beyond its current format, adamant the international football calendar must grow.
Australia and New Zealand will face off in Saturday’s Pacific Cup final in Hamilton, ending what has largely been a low-profile end-of-season tournament.
Papua New Guinea and Fiji will then face off in the final of the second-tier Pacific Bowl final on Sunday, to be played in Port Moresby.
The Pacific Championship had only three round-robin matches in each division, with each of the six nations – Samoa and the Cook Islands were also involved – playing two games before a decider.
Both competitions have had their final set for the past two weeks, with the Kangaroos and Kiwis, along with PNG and Fiji, playing dead rubbers last week.
There is no final in the women’s competition, with teams playing an uneven number of games and Australia and New Zealand winning one each against each other.
Maguire believes the competition must expand if it is to thrive.
Tonga will likely return to the men’s Pacific Cup next year, offering a fourth team and a chance for all sides to play a third match before the finals.
Any chance of mid-year fixtures – as has been the case in the past – is unlikely given the cluttered rugby league schedule and removal of Sunday night State of Origin.
“We’re always crying out for representative footy,” Maguire said.
“If we could have it longer (it would be good). Hopefully we could have four or five games next year, that adds to what the international game is all about.
“We need to hold the international game to a higher level, right across rugby league.
“For the Kiwis it is very, very special (and) no doubt for the other nations. This is the only representative football a Kiwi can play.”
No Kangaroos matches have been played in the strongholds of Sydney, Brisbane or Auckland in the tournament.
New Zealand played once in Auckland, against Samoa – who were dramatically weakened for the competition and beaten 38-12 by Australia and 50-0 by the Kiwis.
Australia coach Mal Meninga insisted there was still a strong motivation for his Kangaroos come Saturday night’s final.
“It’s of huge relevance,” Meninga said. “Off the back of that success in the World Cup we want to stay No.1 in the world.
“We know New Zealand is one of our greatest threats. We want to win the Pacific Championship as the inaugural one. We want our name on the trophy.”
Pat Carrigan is expected to be fit to play for the Kangaroos, despite battling a cork throughout the week.
Meninga has given Australia’s players a light build up, well aware they are suffering from fatigue some eight months after the start of the NRL season. “It’s such a long year,” he said.
“You have to be really mindful of the players and all the bumps and bruises they get. How tired and mentally drained they get after a long season.”