James Tedesco runs with the ball.
Australian captain James Tedesco is not concerned with New Zealand’s No.1 Test ranking, declaring the Kangaroos are the best team in the competition ahead of their semifinal clash with the Kiwis at the Rugby League World Cup.
New Zealand confirmed a final-four showdown with Australia this Saturday only after surviving a major scare from Fiji in the quarter-final in Hull.
A late try from Jordan Rapana’s sealed a come-from-behind 24-18 win for the Kiwis.
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The Kiwis came into the World Cup as the No.1 Test nation despite winning just 14 of the last 28 Tests the team has played since 2015.
During that same period, the Australians have won 19 of 22 games, including the last World Cup in Australia back in 2017.
Either Australia or New Zealand has raised the World Cup title over the tournament’s last nine facilities.
“We don’t really give it much thought,” Tedesco said of New Zealand’s international ranking.
“I don’t think it really means much at this time. We see ourselves as the best so we’re going to play like that. We have that expectation when you put an Australian jersey on that we are going to win. We have that confidence. I don’t think the rankings really mean much to us. We want to win the World Cup.”
New Zealand fullback Joey Manu was also disinterested in mulling over the hierarchy.
“I know where we sit as a team and that’s all I need to worry about,” he said following his man-of-the-match showing against Fiji.
“I’m not worried about rankings or who is a better team. I believe in this team we have got here.”
However, demoted halfback Daly Cherry-Evans considered New Zealand’s string of performances in a different way, outlining Australia as the dark horse.
“We’re the underdogs. They’re ranked No.1 for a reason and the last couple years suggests they’ve been playing some high-level footy,” he said.
“They’ve been playing more often than us so they’ve got a bit more continuity in their side and we don’t have any control over how the tournament is ranked.
“All we know is we’re playing against a red-hot Kiwi side and we’re more than up to the challenge.
“We’ve been really aware of where the tournament is going to unfold and we had an idea that this game was coming.
Kangaroos progress to the semifinals
“We know if we play our style of footy we’re going to be hard to beat but we’re going to have to take it to a new level to beat New Zealand but the foundation is definitely there for us to play some really good footy next week.”
The rankings system has come under fire by Australian players, and chief playmaker Nathan Cleary referred to the criticism when told of Cherry-Evans’ response.
“Well we’re ranked No. 4 in the world so I guess he’s right,” he said.
“They’ve obviously got a great pack and some great players amongst their team, but that pack is definitely a strength… we’ll have to be on our A game.”
Fiji led the Kiwis for much of the quarter-final but Rapana kicked a late penalty to put his side ahead for the first time, and then claimed the clinching try.
The penalty goal game when Manu was originally ruled to have lost the ball for the Kiwis in Fiji’s half, but a captain’s challenge saw the bunker overturn the initial decision and instead award a penalty for a strip from Viliame Kikau.
The late decision to penalize Fiji proved costly to the end result and many felt it was the wrong decision with no clear-cut evidence that Manu hadn’t lost control of the ball himself.
In the other World Cup semi-final, England will face the winner of Samoa and Tonga’s quarterfinal on Monday morning (AEDT).
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