By Paul Martin at Elland Road
James Tedesco’s head-to-head with Joey Manu is among the most talked about going into Friday night’s mouth-watering semi-final between Australia and New Zealand – but not by the men involved.
Indeed it’s music, rather than the upcoming battle for a place in the Rugby League World Cup final, that has been the sole topic of any conversation between the two Sydney Roosters team-mates this week.
And Tedesco knows he will have to hit all the right notes if he is to get the better of his clubmate at Elland Road.
“We’ve messaged a little bit about some new music,” he said. “I’ll catch up with him properly after the game.
“He’s cool, calm and relaxed and I’m keen to play against him.
“He does so much work and he’s their main guy. It’s a big job for us defensively to keep him quiet.
“Their whole spine has some great individual players who can create and spark their team.”
Friday night’s meeting is the first between the two heavyweights since October 2019 and absence has not made either heart grow fonder in the meantime, Tedesco this week dismissing the world rankings – which have the Kiwis at the summit – as ‘not meaning much’.
New Zealand had to come from behind to defeat Fiji in the last eight but there has been no such stress for Australia, who have scored 240 points and conceded just 18 in their four matches so far.
Tedesco, who switched allegiances from Italy to the country of his birth with occasions like this in mind, is now anticipating a far stronger Kiwis showing as he looks to avoid becoming the first Kangaroos skipper to lose a World Cup semi-final.
“They weren’t at their best last weekend but we’re expecting them to come out firing,” he said.
“It will be a tough challenge, definitely our hardest so far. NRL is strongest in Australia and New Zealand and that rivalry has built over many years.
“To line up in front of the haka is always a pretty big experience, one a lot of guys haven’t done before.
“It will be a battle but we’re ready for it.”
The Kangaroos squad is one packed with leaders and Tedesco has preferred to let his footy do the talking since taking on the role as captain.
He could become the latest in a storied list of Australian skippers to lift the World Cup trophy next weekend but is well aware of the challenges that lie ahead for his dream to become reality.
“Captaining the Kangaroos is the highest honour of my career so far and it probably didn’t hit me until I ran out for that first game, leading the boys out and hearing the anthem,” he said.
“It’s a huge honour but I’ll only see it as success if we win. We have to focus on this game first, then hopefully next week as well.
“I’ve learned as captain that you can carry the weight of a team sometimes. When I carry that responsibility and try to do too much, it hinders my game
“Over the past couple of years, I’ve tried to be myself, play my footy and lead by my actions. When I do that, I play my best and the team follows.”
The Rugby League World Cup promises to be the biggest, best and most inclusive event in the sport’s 127-year history with men’s, women’s and wheelchair teams competing in 61 games across 21 venues throughout England. Tickets are available via rlwc2021.com/tickets