Memories of '08 loom
By Liam Napier, Sportal
An eerie feeling surrounds Suncorp Stadium where the Kiwis hope to reimpose the Kangaroos' 2008 demons in the Four Nations final on Saturday.
Only this time they won't have the element of surprise.
Ricky Stuart's Kangaroos cruised to the World Cup final in Brisbane two years ago as unbackable favourites, the same tag they will carry this weekend after trouncing the Kiwis.
Choking is normally associated with the All Blacks' World Cup failures but Australia's superstar league team temporarily stole the mantle for their shock loss.
The Kiwis' (34-20) first World Cup triumph effectively ended Stuart's coaching career – afterwards he confronted and labelled the referee a cheat and was forced to resign – and for the six 'Roos who played in that tournament, those memories are entrenched.
Australian centre Brent Tate was a standout in Auckland. He missed the '08 final with injury but admitted the raw emotion of being beaten on the ultimate stage still grated.
"I don't see it as revenge mate, but I see it as huge motivation. I was a part of that World Cup campaign. That hurt for a long time. It's still raw for me," Tate said, expecting the Kiwis to quickly shake off their woeful effort."
"We'll have a far better Kiwi team [this] week. I'm under no illusions it will be far different. This is a very dangerous game for us."
Twelve Kiwis remain from the historic victory – 13 if you include coach Stephen Kearney – and it will be an upset of similar proportions if they can turnaround what was a horrible error-ridden outing that saw the crowd turn manic at Eden Park.
A distraught Darren Lockyer was consoled by Kiwis' aide Wayne Bennett after the '08 defeat. The Australian skipper watched Saturday's commanding victory from the stands and then declared himself 'fresh and ready' to balance the ledger.
"It's a good little reminder of what can happen in big games," the most-capped Kangaroo of all time said.
"We were favourites to win the World Cup in '08 and we'll be the favourites to win [this] week no doubt, but you've only got to look back a couple of years to know what can happen."
Mid-week selections will again be the focus of the build-up, where Australian coach Tim Sheens is expected to face some head-scratching decisions.
Lockyer and Slater will replace Darius Boyd and Todd Carney, but Sheens' four rookies did nothing wrong in a dominant side that featured seven alterations.
Tate's spot is sewn up but others will have some sleepless nights.
"Those guys [debutants] were outstanding. They put a lot of pressure on everyone. I wouldn't like to be picking the team this week because everyone's in good form," Tate said.
Kearney 's strongest team failed to fire but, because of limited squad options, he is likely to have faith they can bounce back. The only tweaks could come in the forward pack with Bronson Harrison and Jared Waerea-Hargreaves in contention while Frank Pritchard carries a knee complaint.