Rugby League: Endacott's Kiwis seize the moment

THE GAME in New Zealand senses a rare moment of opportunity as the Kiwis prepare to battle for their world crown, immediately after the failure of the All Blacks in union's Rugby World Cup.

With the nation still in a state of shock over events at Twickenham, the rugby league side that is used to living in the All Blacks' shadow can earn a new level of acclaim by giving the public here a winning team - and a winning team over Australia at that.

"I don't want to put pressure on our guys and I won't be drumming it up that much, but the fact is that this has become a very, very important match for us," said the Kiwi coach, Frank Endacott, about the Tri-Series final in Auckland this Friday.

"What has happened to the All Blacks has made it a two-fold thing for us if we can win, so it has become the most important game for the Kiwis for 20 years. "It would give us such a boost, because everything in New Zealand has traditionally revolved around the All Blacks."

The Kiwis have been on the verge before of breaking through to a gain higher sporting profile in New Zealand, notably in the 1980s when they beat Australia under Graham Lowe and reached the World Cup final, only to lose to the Kangaroos.

They have already beaten Australia once in this series and, although they have not beaten them in back-to-back Tests for more than 50 years, the rewards for doing so this time are great. Endacott has been playing down the status of the game as a world title decider, but if the Kiwis can win most people in New Zealand and Australia would regard them as the champion side in the game, at least until next year's World Cup.

Neither side reports any major injury problems going into the showdown at Ericsson Stadium. The Australian prop, Rodney Howe, has passed a fitness test on his knee before travelling with the squad to Auckland, while the goal-kicking winger, Mat Rogers, delayed his departure because he is about to become a father.

The New Zealand Maori team which is due to face a chastened Great Britain side in the curtain-raiser is having even more problems than its opposition in raising a convincing line-up.

Their coach, Cameron Bell, once in charge at Carlisle, said that they were only told they were required to play last Saturday; gathering a team together has been difficult since some players had been unable to break away from pre-season with their Australian clubs. "It has caused a bit of a panic and it could be that only three of the 17 will have played for me before," he said.

The New Zealand forward David Lomax, who played for Newcastle Knights this year, has agreed to join the newly merged Huddersfield and Sheffield Super League club. John Kear, the coach, will secure the signature of the 29-year-old back-row man before he leaves Auckland this week.

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