The day of reckoning has arrived for Australia and New Zealand as they prepare to take the field in Elland Road, Leeds, and do battle for the title of Tri-Nations Champions.
Following Australia�s victory over the British last week, the Kiwi�s gasped a thunderous sigh of relief that could be heard all the way back to Stewart Island.
With one game left, New Zealand now has to scale the final peak in what has become their Holy Grail of Rugby League.
They destroyed Australia in the first game, showing brilliant form in Sydney Town, a place they hadn�t won in for half a century. A week later they were foiled in the final minutes in Auckland, narrowly going down to an Andrew johns inspired Australia.
Next match and they�re at it again, blowing Great Britain off the park before copping some of their own treatment a fortnight later, suffering a heavy loss to the home nation.
Thanks to both of Australia�s victories over the Poms, New Zealand now line up against their Pacific cousins in the unfamiliar venue of Northern England.
Pandemonium has been a common theme amongst both camps, with the gentle Kiwi halfback Stacey Jones retiring three times on this tour so far, after initially coming out of retirement for it. Ruben Wiki has extolled the virtues of Kava across three countries and two hemispheres and Nigel Vagana is lucky to still be playing the game.
The Australian team has endured three changes in the halves, several injuries have forced them to recall Craig Wing from holidays in Hawaii, and last week Trent Barrett became the first man ever to be sin-binned twice in a Test match.
Meanwhile, Great Britain thought they�d take it upon themselves to book New Zealand�s flight home prior to the completion of the tournament and have been forced to take a jolly good look at themselves in the mirror.
It all makes for an absorbing clash of footy on Saturday night, or Sunday morning for the Antipodeans.
Old stager Wayne Bennett faces young buck Brian McClennan once more in what might become a familiar role for the rookie Kiwi coach given his remarkable success so far. If the Aussies fail though, expect Bennett to come under intense scrutiny to keep his job.
The Kiwis have once again named an extended line-up, with Jones likely to play as soon as he gets off the plane. Australia are looking to bring O�Meley into the starting line-up which I think is a good idea as the New Zealand pack is a monstrous one. With Wing�s possible injury and the news that Gower strained a leg muscle last week, it may also force a reshuffle in the halves but most of that will be worked out prior to kick-off.
Based on recent form though, you have to go with the Aussies. They�ve had two solid wins against Great Britain and a smash-up against France to clear out the rest of the cobwebs. Whereas New Zealand were beaten soundly by the Poms and really struggled against France.
I�m going to go with the Aussies, but now and again against all odds, the Kiwis come out swinging and really shake things up, like they did in Sydney. You can never really count them out�
Leading try scorers: Matt Cooper (Aust), Clinton Toopi (NZ), Jake Webster (NZ) 5.
Leading points scorer: Stacey Jones (NZ) 34 points.
Head to head in series:
New Zealand 38 bt Australia 28 in Sydney. Australia 28 bt New Zealand 26 in Auckland.
Australia's results against New Zealand since 2000:
2000: W, 52-0, Sydney 2000: W, 40-12, Old Trafford, World Cup final 2001: W, 28-10, Wellington 2002: W, 32-24, Wellington 2003: W, 48-6, Sydney 2003: L, 16-30, Auckland 2004: W, 37-10, Newcastle 2004: D, 16-16, Auckand, Tri-Nations 2004: W, 32-12, London, Tri-Nations 2005: W, 32-16, Brisbane 2005: L, 28-38, Sydney, Tri-Nations 2005: W, 28-26, Auckland, Tri-Nations
AUSTRALIA v NEW ZEALAND SUMMARY
Test matches: 86-61-1-24-1,780-1,076 Tri-Nations: 6-3-1-2-148-136 World Cup*:12-12-0-0-349-138 Totals: 104-76-2-26-2,277-1,350 * Not including Tests which doubled as World Cup matches
Not including two Super League matches in 1997. Won one each.
Team and individual records between the two countries:
Highest score: 52-0 at Sydney, 21 April 2000. Most tries in a match: 3 by Harold Horder, Col Geelan, Alex Watson, Don Adams, Reg Gasnier, Ian Moir,Brian Carlson. Most goals: 10 by Eric Simms, World Cup at Wigan, 21 October 1970.
Most points in a match: 24 (8g,2t) by Mat Rogers, at Sydney, 21 April 2000.
Highest score: 49-25 Second Test at Brisbane, 28 June 1952 (Also widest margin). Most tries in a match: 3 by Brian King, Stan Walters, Lou Brown, Brian Reidy, Clinton Toopi. Most goals and points: 11g-22pts by Des White, Second Test at Brisbane, 28 June 1952.
New Zealand have scored the most tries (21) and also conceded the most (22). New Zealand have conceded the most penalties (28 in four games). Australia have made the most tackles (560). Australia have made the most handling errors (35).
More info: www.tri-nations.com.au Discussion: Tri-Nations Forum at http://forums.leagueunlimited.com/forumdisplay.php?f=130