Wiki demands excellence against 'awesome' Australia

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Ruben Wiki, the New Zealand captain, believes that they will have to scale new heights if they are to retain their Tri-Nations title here tomorrow.

The Kiwis take the field as underdogs against Australia, despite beating them in last year's final at Elland Road, and Wiki, winning a world record 55th cap, says that is the way it should be after losing to them three times since.

"I thought the Aussies were awesome against Great Britain in Brisbane last week," Wiki said. "Obviously Darren Lockyer was there to finish everything off but when the forwards are going forward like theirs did the half-backs' job is easy. If we control their forwards we'll be a long way towards winning the game, but we need our best defensive game of the year if we are to do that."

Wiki believes that the Nathan Fien affair, which saw the Kiwis docked two points for fielding an ineligible player, has made the traditional family atmosphere within the squad more intense than ever.

"Every year we lose players, but new guys like Iosia Soliola and Steve Matai come in and it's as though they've always been part of the family," he said.

The game could revolve around the tactical battle between two great playmaking half-backs in Lockyer and Stacey Jones, both of whom were outstanding in their last games in the tournament.

Lockyer, who won the Golden Boot as the game's International Player of the Year this week, has bounced back after an uncertain start to the season and captained Brisbane and Queensland to victory, leaving him on the verge of a unique hat-trick with Australia.

With the return of Willie Mason from suspension, Australia have their most damaging, as well as their most temperamental forward back on deck and it would be a surprise if he and David Kidwell did not resume hostilities. The match has the potential to be highly aggressive as well as a feast of constructive skills.

Australia: K Hunt (Brisbane); B Tate (Brisbane), M Gasnier (St George Illawarra), J Hodges (Brisbane), G Inglis (Melbourne); D Lockyer (Brisbane), J Thurston (North Queensland); W Mason (Bulldogs), C Smith (Melbourne), P Civoniceva (Brisbane), N Hindmarsh (Parramatta), A Ryan (Bulldogs), L O'Donnell (North Queenland). Substitutes: M O'Meley (Bulldogs), S Berrigan (Brisbane), A Tupou (Sydney), B Kite (Manly).

New Zealand: B Webb (NZ Warriors); S Hape (Bradford), I Soliola (Sydney), S Matai (Manly), M Vatuvei (NZ Warriors); N Vagana (Cronulla), S Jones (Catalans); R Wiki (NZ Warriors), D Halatau (Wests-Tigers), R Asotasi (Bulldogs), D Kidwell (Melbourne), S Mannering (NZ Warriors), D Fa'Alogo (South Sydney). Substitutes: M Tony (Hull), N Cayless (Parramatta), A Blair (Melbourne), F Pritchard (Penrith).

Referee: A Klein (GB).