Four Nations final preview: Australia firm favourites to see off New Zealand in Anfield showdown

Mal Meninga's team have proved themselves to be the tournament's best side by some stretch

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The Independent Online

On the evidence so far, Australia might not need to be at their formidable best to win the Rugby League Four Nations this weekend. 

The Aussies have been vulnerable to their Kiwi neighbours over the last decade, conceding a World Cup and a Four Nations in the process. There has been no sign that there is a further embarrassment awaiting them in this competition, which culminates in a final at Anfield on Sunday. 

Australia looked well in control in beating the Kiwis in a warm-up match in Perth and a group game in Coventry. New Zealand, on the other hand, were less than impressive against England and Scotland.

On top of that, they have lost one of their key players from their final line-up. Thomas Leuluai, who is due to re-join Wigan from next season, broke his jaw in two places, in the draw with Scotland and will be badly missed, not least by his half-back partner Shaun Johnson, a player of a very different style who relies on Leuluai to give him the solid base from which to work. 

He could be replaced by the 21-year-old Te Maire Martin of the Penrith Panthers, who was on the bench against Scotland but who would be starting in a black and white shirt for the first time. 

Another option would be to switch Jason Taumalolo from the back-row, although that would require a significant change in the way New Zealand play. 

It all amounts to fiery baptism for the new Kiwi coach, David Kidwell, who already had a difficult task taking over from the successful Stephen Kearney.

New Zealand's Kidwell has had to contend with criticism of his methods at home (Getty)

He has gone to coach many of the same players in their club colours with the New Zealand Warriors in the NRL. It leaves an awkward gap at Test level and Kidwell has been taking plenty of criticism back home for the way he has set about trying to fill it. 

You would not need a crystal ball to predict a rugged approach from his team, especially from players like Jarred Wharea-Hargreaves and Marty Taupau. 

The Australian coach, the legendary Mal Meninga, not only sprinkles his stardust on the occasion, but he also has a lot more to work with. 

Opinions vary on how good a coach he is, but as a symbol of Australian superiority over the past 30 or 40 years, he would be hard to match. 

He does not have a great Kangaroo team to work with, but it is thoroughly solid. They have lost the brilliance of Billy Slater at full-back, but the spine of Johnathan Thurston, Cooper Cronk and Cameron Smith is still in place. 

Meninga's team is not one of his best but they are heavy favourites (Getty)

These are players so familiar with each other's game that they no longer have to think about what they are going to do. 

It is possible for a team to come with a late run in a short tournament like this, but it will be an upset of major proportions if the Kiwis manage to do so. 

As for England, they are still digesting the disappointment of not being in the final and there are inevitable calls for Wayne Bennett's contract to be brought to a premature end. 

The Australian 'master coach', is signed up until after next year's World Cup and remains keen to carry on. To remove him now would be too much of an admission of folly from those who appointed him. 

It would require a massive gate at Anfield to make a commercial success of the tournament. Indeed, the only participants who can really be delighted with their contribution are the Scots, who showed that those brought in to make up the numbers can on occasion exceed their brief.