New Zealand head to the World Cup later this month as international rugby league’s top-ranked side, but coach Michael Maguire says history at the tournament means the Kangaroos still deserve to be favourites.
Having won their last three Tests, most recently against Tonga in June, the Kiwis have cemented their spot at the top of the world rankings, while Australia haven’t played a game since 2019 and are ranked fourth.
Maguire said while confidence is high within his squad, the Kangaroos, who have won the past two World Cups, “have the runs on the board” at the tournament.
“I believe [this Kiwis team can win it], yes,” Maguire said.
The belief amongst the team is really strong, I’m not going to shy away from that.
“The confidence comes from the journey that we have been on. We have spent a fair bit of time over the last two or three years coming together.
“We have got a big job ahead of us to be able to make sure that we maintain that over the journey of the World Cup, but the boys are in good position to be able to have some strong success here.
“The history tells they (Australia) are obviously the carriers of the World Cup over a long period of time.
“We’ve got some big opposition against us. I think it’s some of the other nations too, like Samoa and Tonga, they have definitely been able to get a lot of quality in there team, England, you can’t underestimate any team.”
Among the 24 players selected in Maguire’s final traveling squad are international newcomers Scott Sorensen, Jeremy Marshall-King and Sebastian Kris.
Kris enjoyed a strong finish to 2022 as part of the Canberra Raiders’ left edge, and across the NRL season scored 14 tries.
With Joseph Manu locked in as the fullback, Maguire hinted that Kris was the frontrunner to fill the vacant centre spot, which Warriors-bound forward Marata Niukore occupied against Tonga.
“Left centre, we played Marata there, but we think Marata is probably more suited to that middle type role,” Maguire said.
“I think he’s found a home in the middle there. But what he can do is play middle, edge and centre. It gives a great opportunity to have someone like that on the bench that can cover quite a number of positions.
“Someone like Seb has played a lot on that left edge and I thought he started to really find his game at the back end of the season.
“I think the upside of Seb is enormous…. the last month, the games that he played and experience he got out of the finals was really important.”
The Kiwis will play a warm up match against Super League side the Leeds Rhinos on October 8 (UK time) before kicking off their World Cup campaign against Lebanon later this month.
Leeds v Kiwis available to stream here – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VuhXSy_OCvE KO 6am NZT Sunday 9 October
By Corey Rosser NRL.com