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Anzac Test: Australia keep faith for record bid; New Zealand ring changes
Australia can claim a record-equalling 16th consecutive victory when they face New Zealand in the Anzac rugby league Test in Sydney on Friday.
In a repeat of last year's World Cup final, the Kangaroos are once again firm favourites against a New Zealand squad featuring five debutants, with established names Kieran Foran, Shaun Kenny-Dowall, Issac Luke, Manu Vatuvei, Jared Waerea-Hargreaves and Sonny Bill Williams all overlooked.
In contrast, coach Tim Sheens has resisted temptation to make wholesale changes to the Australia line-up that beat the Kiwis in the 2013 World Cup final in England.
Full-back Billy Slater and half-back Cooper Cronk keep their spots in the starting side despite an indifferent start to the domestic season, while strong performances in the National Rugby League see Greg Inglis and Daly Cherry-Evans named in Sheens' matchday squad.
New Zealand coach Stephen Kearney has come under scrutiny after opting to select a number of untried players ahead of experienced internationals against the top-ranked side in the world.
Manly sensation Peta Hiku starts at full-back, Warriors utility Ben Henry takes hooking duties and Penrith reserve Isaac John will play at stand-off in the absence of Foran.
Fellow international newcomers Siliva Havili and Martin Taupau have been named on the four-man bench, while Melbourne Storm youngster Kenny Bromwich will be the 18th man.
Kearney is aware of the criticisms being levelled at him, but denies claims that he is showing disregard for the annual fixture.
"All we have done is go through a selection process," he told reporters. "We don't disrespect our jumper.
"We understand there has been negativity, but we're getting the chance to go out and play for our country.
"The guys going out there for us will do a wonderful job and play with a great deal of energy."
New Zealand face a stern challenge if they are to break Australia's 15-match winning streak, with the Kiwis having not won an Anzac Test since Auckland 1998.
There will be a degree of expectation on the shoulders of Australia, who boast a number of NRL stars including Slater, Inglis, Cronk and Cameron Smith.
Australia host a trans-Tasmanian Test in Sydney for the first time in six years and Sheens believes the level of expectation increases on home soil.
"Everyone thinks their mother could coach the Australian side - maybe they could," he said.
"But the pressure is still on the side. If they win, they're expected to win. They don't get much credit for that."
Australia's last defeat at Test level was at the hands of New Zealand in the 2010 Four Nations final in Brisbane but if they beat the Kiwis on Friday they will match the run of the Australian "Invincibles" of 1979 to 1983.
"We like to think we're the 'Unbeatables' and we're going OK," Sheens added.
"But we had to earn that tag last year to be world champions, so it's not just a matter of turning up, it's still a matter of respecting your opposition."
Australia: Slater, Boyd, Inglis, Morris, Morris, Thurston, Cronk, Tamou, Smith, Scott, Thaiday, Bird, Gallen.
Interchange: Cherry-Evans, Myles, Cordner, Parker. 18th man: Gillett.
New Zealand: Hiku, Tuivasa-Sheck, Whare, Beale, Nightingale, John, Johnson, Bromwich, Henry, Moa, Mannering (capt), Proctor, Blair.
Interchange: Havili, Taupau, Eastwood, Harris. 18th man: Bromwich.
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