Australian coach Tim Sheens admits if he can steer a vastly below-strength and flu-stricken Kangaroos to victory in Saturday’s Four Nations final against New Zealand it will be one of his greatest coaching achievements.
Delivered an injury-hit squad, a first round battering from the Kiwis and another illness scare ahead of the Westpac Stadium decider, Sheens has been caught behind the eight ball throughout the four-week tournament.
But Australia survived a 16-12 nail biter against England two weeks ago and overcame a brutal and stoic Samoa last weekend to progress through to the tournament decider.
Without the services of 12 players from last year’s World Cup winning squad, Sheens has blooded nine rookies in three Tests and had little time to mould together a side.
The four-times first grade premiership-winning mentor says a win over the unbeaten Kiwis on home soil at Wellington’s Westpac Stadium would be a considerable effort.
“It would be a fantastic achievement to win this tournament,” Sheens said at a civic reception for both teams in the Wellington CBD on Wednesday.
“I don’t think anyone gave us too much of a chance and certainly after game one they gave us no chance.
“We have come a long way since that first week and that was a very good England side we beat and a Samoan side that had plenty to play for.
“We have had probably too many injuries in the side at the moment but those were the cards we were dealt and the players have the chance to stamp their own mark in the game and defend our Four Nations trophy.”
Sheens was forced to cancel training on Wednesday after an illness swept through the Kangaroos camp for the third time in the tournament.
Greg Inglis couldn’t return after halftime in Australia’s first week loss to the Kiwis in Brisbane and Sheens was struck down in the lead-up to the win over England in Melbourne two weeks ago.
Several media outlets reported that Daly Cherry-Evans, Cooper Cronk, Sione Mata’utia, David Klemmer and Beau Scott were the players to be quarantined from the group.
However Sheens believes the afflicted players will be fully recovered come game day.
“With the boys sick it is a couple of days and we will be ready to play,” Sheens said.
“We delayed training today because of a little bit of illness but we will be back at training tomorrow.
“No one is in doubt.
“It is various levels between a few of them, but the doctor is taking care of it.
“We are not looking for excuses, we expect them to be right to play on Saturday.
“We have got it under control we think.”