‘They haven’t been in a battle like that in 2022’: Australia left battered and bruised but are ready for Samoa

The Australians are still recovering from their brutal semi-final encounter against New Zealand, with coach Mal Meninga labelling it as “one of the toughest Test matches” he’d ever been involved with.

They were made to toil for the victory as the two rivals battled it out in an absorbing affair, before the Kangaroos booked their place in the Rugby League World Cup final at the Theatre of Dreams.

Was the World Cup semi-final a tougher battle than State of Origin? 

“They’re still sore,” Meninga admitted on SEN after his team had held its own against an imposing Kiwi pack. 

MORE: Cameron Murray praises Australian forward pack after scoring match-winning try

“It’s 48 hours after the game…and it’ll take them a couple of days to recover. They haven’t been in a battle like that in 2022.”

Meninga revealed his side had been left bruised from the encounter at Elland Road, with the Penrith contingent of Nathan Cleary, Isaah Yeo and Liam Martin even rating it as the most physical battle they’d endured all season.

“Physicality was a big thing all game with both teams going at each other,” the Aussie coach said.

“Even going through Origin, the finals and the Penrith guys obviously winning the grand final- the physicality of that game they haven’t experienced before.”

Despite a number of stars nursing niggles, Meninga was adamant the increase in physicality is what makes international rugby league so alluring to fans.

“It’s a great advertisement for our game,” he reasoned. “It’s a different game to Origin and NRL. It’s very aggressive, physical and you’ve got to bring your A game.”

Will Mal Meninga make changes to the Kangaroos side? 

Although Australia just about managed to advance, Meninga was happy with what his first choice 17 produced, stating how he wouldn’t be making any changes for the final against Samoa.

“I wouldn’t think so at this stage, unless something drastic happens,” he said. “I wouldn’t imagine any changes to a winning team.”

Australia have made no secret of their goal to become champions for the third consecutive time at this year’s tournament. And Meninga offered some insight into the preparation his coaching staff had been doing with the players to get them peaking at the perfect moment.

“We’ve done some periodic training- some really tough stuff during the middle of the tournament,” he said.

“That tired them out a fair bit and just kept them in shape from a fitness point of view.”

MORE: Australia v New Zealand talking points – Liam Martin leads the way whilst Cleary is kept quiet

Along with the physical side of matters, Meninga and his staff have also been keeping a close eye on their potential opposition in order to come up with the best game plan possible for each individual side.

Samoa poses a unique challenge after getting up off the canvas from a battering in their opening group match against England, to then beat the home nation for a historic spot in the final.

They have a number of Penrith stars amongst their line-up with the likes of Jarome Luai, Brian To’o and Stephen Crichton warming to the task the longer the tournament has progressed. 

“We’ll pick brains, don’t worry,” Meninga said, when discussing how his Panthers players could help formulate a way to stop the Samoans. 

“We will make sure we look at how we can improve our game from our team’s point of view first,” he said.

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“Then, as the week goes on, we will look at Samoa and how well they are going, and what are their strengths and how do we counteract all that. We will do our homework on them as the week goes on.”

Should Junior Paulo have been suspended for the RLWC final? 

Meninga admitted he was surprised at Junior Paulo having no case to answer at the tribunal after being sin-binned against England for a tipping tackle.

However, he explained his team would be using it as a motivational tool despite there being an obvious discrepancy in the laws of the international game. 

“The rules are a little bit different, but that’s important,” he stated.

“We’re going to play against a full-strength Samoan side. So, if we achieve our goal of winning the World Cup, we’ll know we’ve beaten Samoa at their best.”

MORE: Samoa captain Junior Paulo cleared to play in Rugby League World Cup final

Meninga wasn’t concerned by the fairytale story of the opposition’s rise to be within touching distance of reaching the pinnacle of the sport. He claimed Australia was content to play the role of being the unpopular favourites against the Samoans. 

“There will be a lot of people out there who won’t want us to be successful and we don’t hide away from that,” he said. “We know that’s going to be a fact. Everyone is going to be supporting Samoa.”  

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