Jared Waerea-Hargreaves leads an impsing Kiwis forward pack.
Jared Waerea-Hargreaves leads an impsing Kiwis forward pack. Hannah Peters

Hodges: Kiwis pack punch

IT'S always a special feeling pulling on the Kangaroos jersey and that feeling always seems to go up a level when you play New Zealand.

You know from the moment you enter the stadium you're going to be in for a physical encounter that you'll be feeling long after full-time.

The passion the New Zealand players show when singing their national anthem is matched only by the intensity they display when performing the Haka.

Facing the Haka as an Australian player can be intimidating, but it's imperative the Australian team don't take a backward step, they must face the Haka, embrace it and then prepare themselves for the next 20 minutes of brutality.

The Haka does something to the Kiwi players that those wearing green and gold can't and will never understand.

You can guarantee that if you're kicking off after the Haka the first Kiwi to get his hands on the ball will be coming off the back fence breathing fire. If you're receiving the ball, you can be assured your ribs are going to cop an almighty pounding.

It's important Australia win the first 20 minutes against the Kiwis in Wollongong tonight.

The Haka helps light the spark.
The Haka helps light the spark. Laurence Griffiths

The New Zealand pack is on paper one of the strongest they have assembled in recent years. They may be missing Nelson Asofa-Solomono, but in Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, Briton Nikora, Kenny Bromwich and Adam Blair they've got the mongrel in the engine room to get the job done.

If the New Zealand pack is intimidating then their backline is just plain scary.

Roger Tuivasa-Sheck is not just one of the best fullbacks in the game, he's one of the best players.

Joseph Manu is close to the best centre in the world, Ken Maumalo is a class finisher and with Shaun Johnson and Benji Marshall the Kiwis have the perfect halves pairing.

Benji Marshall has changed his game over time.
Benji Marshall has changed his game over time. Phil Walter

Marshall is a different player to the 20-year-old kid who debuted in the black and white jersey in 2005.

He has evolved into one of the best ball players and game managers in the competition and it's his ability to guide the team around the park that will free up Johnson to play his natural game.

So how do the Australians beat the Kiwis? The Kangaroos need to match the Kiwis early. If Josh Papalii and David Klemmer can control the middle they'll open the game up for the likes of Damien Cook and James Tedesco.

The Kangaroos have x-factor across the park but they must win the battle in the middle before they look to go wide.

Daly Cherry-Evans will steer the Roos around the park.
Daly Cherry-Evans will steer the Roos around the park. Mark Metcalfe

Daly Cherry-Evan's kicking game will also be crucial. If Cherry-Evans can pin the Kiwis into the corners and turn their big forwards around the Aussies will fancy their chances late in the game.

I really like the look of the Australian bench for this clash.

In Payne Haas and Paul Vaughn, coach Mal Meninga has two forwards who can come on and not only make an impact, but play big minutes in the middle if required.

Wade Graham showed during this year's State of Origin series that he's able to cover any position on the paddock and do it in style and in Ben Hunt the Kangaroos have a player who can terrorise the tiring Kiwi forwards late in each half.

This game has all the makings of an absolute classic.

If the Kangaroos can win the early exchanges, I think they'll be too strong for New Zealand, but if the Kiwis can get out to an early lead they'll be tough to run down.

Don't miss Australian v New Zealand Friday night at 7.00pm (AEST) LIVE, ad-break free during play and in HD on FOX LEAGUE and streamed on Foxtel Now. Sign up today at Foxtel.com.

News Corp Australia

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