Kookaburras face heat in Cairns
THE pressure is on the Kookaburras to maintain a sterling record over their Trans-Tasman rivals as the world champions battle with injuries to a bevy of stars.
Jamie Dwyer, Matthew Swann, Matthew Butturini, Simon Orchard and Liam De Young are all out of action for the three-Test series, starting tonight.
That puts heat on the likes of Eddie Ockenden and Mark Knowles to ensure they keep the Kiwis in check.
Only once have New Zealand beaten Australia since 1999, but Ockenden has tipped the BlackSticks to continue their uprising as they build towards the Olympics.
"The pressure is always there, but it’s unfortunate that those boys won’t be on the park as well," he said.
"That’s the best thing about coming here though – they are a world-class team and they probably played better than us at the Champions Trophy (last year). They’re aggressive, strong, fit and fast like us."
Australian coach Ric Charlesworth said the injury toll meant preparations were just "OK", but that it also created a chance for those outside the final 16 to push their case for a call-up.
"It’s still six weeks away and there is still 17th and 18th players to select, so there’s a way to go and a bit to play for," he said. "It’s hard for those guys that are out at the moment (to be around the players that are in the team) but there are still a few ways they can make that side – more than a third of our 16 are still injured."
Kookaburras’ mainstay Mark Knowles said the injury-enforced reshuffle would not really throw their structure out.
"This squad’s been together for years now, nothing will change too much," he said.
New Zealand will have the most experienced team in London, with three players having more than 250 games under their belts.
"We’ve never underestimated them and that’s why our results have been so good, because other teams often do," Charlesworth said.
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Fired up: Tim Deavin cracks a sweeping pass during training this week as the Australians prepare for a three-game series against New Zealand in Cairns, starting tonight. Picture: BRENDAN FRANCIS