Aussie World Champions Toppled In Shock NRL Loss To Kiwis
Kangaroos coach Mal Meninga concedes Tonga will be fancying their chances of knocking over Australia after the world champions' shock loss to New Zealand.
The Kangaroos' new era began with a 26-24 defeat to the Kiwis at Mt Smart Stadium, an outcome which indicated there are set to be some growing pains after farewelling some of Australia's all-time greats.
The Roos were toppled for the first time in 14 games and the Mate Ma'a will come into next Saturday's clash at the same venue spurred on by a sold-out 25,000-strong sea of red and white.
"We know what's coming. We know how committed they're going to be," Meninga said.
"We'll be ready for it physically and mentally ... I think they think we're beatable."
While Tonga are stacked with some of the best players in the world in Jason Taumalolo, Andrew Fifita and Tevita Pangai Jnr, a loss to a non-tier one nation would immediately place Meninga and his squad under immense pressure.
Meninga said we would resist the urge to make changes and bring in Reagan Campbell-Gillard or Tyrone Peachey after his side was beaten by the Kiwis for the first time Kiwis since 2015.
The 26-24 scoreline flattered the Australians after they ran in two late tries - scores that could not counter a glut of rudimentary errors.
"The papers tomorrow will be talking about how the Kangaroos are vulnerable," Meninga said.
"We're at a stage in our transition where we have a bit of work to do. But I can assure you we'll be ready for next week."
With Greg Inglis suspended and Cameron Smith, Johnathan Thurston, Cooper Cronk and Billy Slater having retired, the Kangaroos looked far from the dominant force which has reigned over the rugby league world for so long.
Smith's absence in particular was noticeable as the side at times lacked patience and composure at key moments.
New No.9 Damien Cook has been superb this year however he had to be substituted after 62 minutes after being targeted by the Kiwis' big men and forced to make 42 tackles.
Asked if the Kangaroos missed Smith and his 56 Tests of experience, new skipper Boyd Cordner replied: "I don't think you can replace a bloke like Cameron Smith.
"Just his experience and the player he is, everyone knows he's one of the best in the game.
"In saying that, we picked a side that's in some really good form this year. Damien Cook has been one of the best players in the NRL."