x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

New Zealand expected to put up a fight

The 'Man of Steel' James Graham is expecting New Zealand to push Australia all the way in Saturday's World Cup final at Suncorp Stadium.

BRISBANE // The 'Man of Steel' James Graham is expecting New Zealand to push Australia all the way in Saturday's World Cup final at Suncorp Stadium. The Kangaroos are unbackable favourites to retain their crown after steamrollering their way into the final with a series of impressive wins, including a 30-6 demolition of the Kiwis in their opening fixture in Sydney. The St Helens forward Graham, one of only two England players to be named in the International Federation team of the year, was in the side hammered 52-4 by the Aussies in Melbourne, but does not expect a similar scoreline.

"I've got a feeling it might be a close game," he said. "You've got to look at Australia but I wouldn't write the Kiwis off." Australia have run up 180 points in their four matches and conceded only 16, but coach Ricky Stuart, speaking at the inaugural International Federation awards dinner, insisted their impressive record will count for little in the final. "Everything we've done in the last month has gone, it means nothing now," he said.

Kangaroos captain Darren Lockyer said his side still had vivid memories of their 24-0 defeat by New Zealand in the 2005 Tri Nations Series final at Elland Road and urged them not to under-estimate the Kiwis. "Three years ago we got spanked in the final," he said. "The Kiwis have got some momentum with their performances in this tournament." Meanwhile, Leeds forward Jamie Peacock is the only England player short-listed for the Golden Boot award, which will be decided on Saturday.

His rivals are Australians Greg Inglis, Brent Kite, Billy Slater, Cameron Smith and Johnathan Thurston and Benji Marshall and Manu Vatuvei from New Zealand. Slater has already been named the International Federation player of the year. * PA Sport