WARRIORS ace Thomas Leuluai says their tag as defending champions will count for nothing in tonight’s mouth-watering Four Nations opener against the Kangaroos.
Since landing the World Cup in 2008, New Zealand have won just one of their seven meetings against Australia – the Four Nations Final last year.
And Leuluai concedes they will need to be firing on all cylinders if they are to overcome the formidable Green and Gold machine at Warrington’s Halliwell Jones this evening.
Tim Sheens’ Aussies eased to a 42-6 win over the Kiwis in a warm-up Test two weeks ago and with Leuluai the only Super League-based player to bolster their ranks, Stephen Kearney’s reigning champions find themselves as rank underdogs.
Leuluai, who has been named on the interchange bench, said: “You can see why Australia are the favourites, especially after the Test in Newcastle.
“If you add up the recent games, they’ve won more of them, but we won the two when it counted – the World Cup Final and Four Nations Final. But they’ve been the most dominant team and we realise we’re really going to have to perform to get something off them.”
The Kiwis have been hit by a raft of withdrawals from front-line players – a point emphasised by the fact 26-year-old Leuluai is the most experienced member of their squad.
And as well as being a senior figure in the side now, Leuluai has been doubling as tour guide to the rest of the squad at their Liverpool base.
“I’m pretty sure Steve doesn’t want me to show them where all the pubs and clubs are!” he joked.
“It’s good to help them out with some of the small things, help them settle in.”
Leuluai, who can operate as well at hooker or halfback, is looking forward to linking up with the clutch of youngsters coming through the Kiwi ranks.
So far he has only followed their careers from afar through the NRL’s TV coverage.
“We’ve got a lot of good players coming through – I guess it just shows how many that there aren’t any more Super League players in the squad,” he said.
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“I’ve not played with Kevin Locke (Warriors full-back) yet, I think he’s gong to be a great player,” continued Leuluai. “I’ve only had one game with Keiran Foran and he’s had a great year for Manly.
“There are a heap of players I’m looking forward to playing alongside.
“I always love playing with Benji (Marshall, captain). He does things that no-one else in the game can do.
“He’s just got some freaky skills and he can beat people in a way I’ve never seen anyone else do. He’s pretty special to watch and it’s great to play alongside him.”
Although the Kiwis have won the last two tournaments staged Down Under they haven’t fared as well in England, failing to reach the final in 2009 and losing a Test series 3-0 against Great Britain two years earlier.