Rugby league showpiece event hits the quarter-finals this weekend.
Elijah Taylor says that the intensity in New Zealand’s training sessions has been ratcheting up in tell-tale fashion as they prepare for their World Cup quarter-final against Scotland on Friday.
Taylor had to make do with a place on the bench as the Kiwis got the defence of the title they won for the first time in 2008 up and running with victories over Samoa and then France.
However, he was handed his first start of the tournament against Papua New Guinea and marked the occasion with a try as New Zealand won 56-10 to make it three victories from three.
Next up for the Kiwis are Scotland — who are unbeaten themselves, having defeated Tonga and the United States and drawn with Italy in their three group-stage games — in the last eight in Leeds.
New Zealand are expected to make light work of Scotland and progress to the semi-finals, where they are likely to face England, who play France, and Taylor’s pre-match mood reflected a sense of serenity.
“I wouldn’t say there is excitement in training as we go towards the knock-out stages, but the intensity has picked up a little bit,” said Taylor, who will join Penrith from the New Zealand Warriors for the 2014 NRL season.
“The Headingley crowd is something we don’t get back in the NRL. A vocal crowd like the one at Headingley is rare. Hopefully the fans turn out for both teams.
“Scotland have got some really exciting players and their halves are outstanding; their whole spine, actually, is outstanding.
“Ian Henderson is a former Warrior and my old training partner. He’s a tough bloke and a smart footballer. I’ve not been in touch with Ian yet, but I’ll be hunting him out on the field. It will be a good challenge.
“Their halves and their kicking game especially are good. We watched them against Italy and they were kicking early and you have to be prepared for that.”
Reaching the quarter-finals marks Scotland’s best ever return at a World Cup, following group-stage exits in their only other appearances in 2000 and 2008.
And Kane Linnett, who has struggled with a rib injury in the tournament, admits the performance of the Bravehearts will have the likes of Lachlan Coote wishing they could turn back time.
Coote pulled himself out of the Scotland squad to concentrate on pre-season with North Queensland Cowboys, and future team-mate Linnett believes he will be regretting the decision.
“I’m sure the boys that were umming and ahhing about coming over are a little bit jealous, but hopefully they will come in for the World Cup next time,” said Linnett.
“I’m sure they see it as a blow now that we’ve reached the quarter-finals. Lachlan Coote, who’s now at the Cowboys, had a few injuries and a couple of other players could have been in the team.
“But at the same time it has given an opportunity to someone like Davie Scott, who is a born Scotsman and has been fantastic for us, which is great for rugby league in Scotland.”