The Kiwis launch their campaign on Saturday night for a fourth straight appearance in a southern hemisphere Tri Nations or Four Nations final.
All three finals played in this part of the world so far have produced outstanding contests with winning margins of two points, four points (in golden point extra time) and four points.
In the abbreviated inaugural Tri Nations in 1999 – the teams played each other just once before the final – the Kiwis stunned Australia 24-22 in the opening match at Mount Smart Stadium and were leading the Kangaroos late in the final only to be undone 22-20 by a last-gasp Wendell Sailor try.
The next time the final was staged down under in 2006 it produced one of the all-time classic encounters at Aussie Stadium (now the Sydney Football Stadium). The Trans-Tasman rivals were locked up 12-12 after 80 minutes before a Johnathan Thurston break in the second half of golden point extra time provided Darren Lockyer with the match winner to leave the brave Kiwis heartbroken.
Fast forward four years and the Kiwis were able to give the Australians the unpalatable experience of what it feels like to be on the end of a last-minute defeat.
The Kangaroos were holding on 12-10 with less than two minutes to play when Benji Marshall released Shaun Kenny-Dowall on the right edge, the big centre flicking a one-hander out to Jason Nightingale centimetres in from the touchline. He hooked the ball back infield, Marshall there to scoop up it up and eventually find Nathan Fien to give the Kiwis the Four Nations crown they’d been denied in the 1999 and 2006 finals.
Add the Kiwis’ extraordinary 24-0 victory over the Australians at Elland Road in 2005 and there’s no question this tournament has delivered in bucket loads.
While the four New Zealand-Australia finals played in Auckland, Leeds, Sydney and Brisbane all belong in rugby league’s list of memorable internationals, the three finals in which the Kangaroos have met Great Britain (2004) and England (2009 and 2011) have been forgettable with the Australians proving far too strong.
In the seven tournaments played, the Kiwis have a modest 12 wins-2 draws-13 losses record but it features two of the most important triumphs in New Zealand rugby league history in 2005 and 2010 as well as two other precious victories against Australia in the round-robin phase in 1999 and 2005 and draws in 2004 and 2009.
NEW ZEALAND | TRI NATIONS AND FOUR NATIONS
1999 v Australia, Mount Smart Stadium, Auckland | Won 24-22
v Great Britain, Mount Smart Stadium, Auckland | Won 26-4
v Australia, Mount Smart Stadium, Auckland | Lost 20-22 (Final)
2004 v Australia, North Harbour Stadium, Auckland | Drew 16-16
v Australia, Loftus Road, London | Lost 12-32
v Great Britain, Galpharm Stadium, Huddersfield | Lost 12-22
v Great Britain, KC Stadium, Hull | Lost 24-26
2005 v Australia, Telstra Stadium, Sydney | Won 38-28
v Australia, Ericsson Stadium, Auckland | Lost 26-28
v Great Britain, Loftus Road, London | Won 42-26
v Great Britain, Galpharm Stadium, Huddersfield | Lost 12-38
v Australia, Elland Road, Leeds | Won 24-0 (Final)
2006 v Australia, Mount Smart Stadium, Auckland | Lost 18-30
v Australia, Telstra Dome, Melbourne | Lost 15-20
v Great Britain, Jade Stadium, Christchurch | Won 18-14
(Kiwis stripped of points due to playing an ineligible player)
v Great Britain, Westpac Stadium, Wellington | Won 34-4
v Australia, Aussie Stadium, Sydney | Lost 12-16 (Final)
(Australia won final in golden point extra time)
2009 v Australia, The Stoop, London | Drew 20-20
v France, Stade Ernest-Wallon, Toulouse | Won 62-12
v England, Galpharm Stadium, Huddersfield | Lost 12-20
2010 v England, Westpac Stadium, Wellington | Won 24-10
v Papua New Guinea, International Stadium, Rotorua | Won 76-12
v Australia, Eden Park, Auckland | Lost 20-34
v Australia, Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane | Won 16-12 (Final)
2011 v Australia, Halliwell Jones Stadium, Warrington | Lost 12-26
v Wales, Wembley Stadium, London | Won 36-0
v England, KC Stadium, Hull | Lost 6-28
Played 27, Won 12, Drawn 2, Lost 13
Finals | 4
Titles | 2