New Zealand Rugby League

By John Davidson, (RLP RLWC Correspondent) Date: 23/11/13

New Zealand coach Stephen Kearney believes his side is ready for the cauldron of Wembley and that England will be stronger opposition with Gareth Widdop in the side.

Talking at a press event at Wembley Stadium today, Kearney said Manu Vautuvei is no chance to play against England and Frank Pritchard has also been ruled out.

On England’s decision to drop Rangi Chase and bring in five-eighth Widdop, Kearney expects James Roby to start at hooker and Widdop to partner Kevin Sinfield in the halves.

“I’m not too fussed to be fair,” he said. “I think it makes them a stronger side. Gareth’s a good player. He gives them a great deal of value. We have to make sure we cover him off.”

Kearney said his team is ready for a real battle and the Kiwi’s training this week has been brutal.

“I think they’ve been really physical contests [our group games],” he said. “Against Scotland and Samoa and France there’s been periods of the game where they’ve been really at us. We’re mindful that it’s a bigger challenge against England. We needed to lift our intensity at training…. the intensity has picked up.”

Asked about his team playing in front of 70,000 fans who will be supporting England, Kearney said some of his young players like Roger Tuivasa-Sheck have handled the occasion well.

“I don’t think he knew where Wembley was,” Kearney joked. 

“He made a comment that he doesn’t watch tennis [laughs]. Which is probably a good thing. Nothing seems to faze Roger. We’ve got some guys out there with a fair bit of experience.”

Kearney made special impact of the contribution of Sonny Bill Williams, who was brought into the New Zealand squad at the last minute.

“It’s been wonderful to have him back in the game. It’s nice to have a player like that in your side.”