Kiwi rugby league team have spine to test Australia

New Zealand's Jordan Rapana (C) vies with Australia's Michael Morgan (L) and Johnathan Thurston (R) during a rugby league Four Nations final in Liverpool, England, November 2016

Strengthened New Zealand are bidding to end a losing four-match run against Australia while England pit their World Cup muscle against the bruising Samoans in a Test extravaganza Down Under this weekend.

The Kiwis, who haven't beaten the Kangaroos since 2015, fancy their chances in Friday's match in Canberra buttressed by an all-star spine of New Zealand Warriors NRL quartet Kieran Foran, Shaun Johnson, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck and Issac Luke.

The New Zealanders, led by Melbourne Storm prop Jesse Bromwich, have plenty of forwards firepower with Dally M co-winner Jason Taumalolo, Russell Packer and Martin Taupau off the interchange bench.

While the Kangaroos have won 16 of the 18 mid-season Tests against the Kiwis since 1998 and are favourites, they are without experienced pair Greg Inglis and Matt Scott, who are injured, while superstar stand-off Johnathan Thurston has been battling a calf niggle.

"You just look at the results. When you've had a number of results go against you, it's hard not to have that doubt there," veteran Kiwi back-rower Simon Mannering said. "That's definitely a thing of the past. You put it to one side.

"In 2015 when we had a pretty consistent team and managed to get a result against a tough Australian team.

"Everyone is pretty familiar with each other and we have some combinations there with the (numbers) nine, six, seven and one all being at the same club (the Warriors)."

Skipper Cameron Smith will become only the second player behind Darren Lockyer to play 50 Tests for the Kangaroos when the hooker lines up for his 34th consecutive Test.

"I pride myself on my resilience and making sure that I train hard and have myself physically and mentally prepared for every match I play, particularly the representative football," Smith said.

- Multicultural society -

Third-ranked England are making the long trip to Australia for a one-off Test against the fifth-rated Samoa in Sydney on Saturday.

England's Australian coach Wayne Bennett stirred debate about eligibility with his selection of Australian-born duo Chris McQueen and Chris Heighington in his squad to face the Pacific islanders.

But England and Canterbury Bulldogs forward James Graham has defended the call-ups.

“If you have got guys that want to represent their heritage or a part of where they’re from then I’m all for that and I’d actively encourage that," Graham said.

“We live in a very multicultural society, people travel, people are born and live in different countries, so I’m all for them wanting to play for England.”

England are fielding seven NRL-based players in their squad, including South Sydney's powerhouse forward Sam Burgess, while among the 18-man Samoan squad 16 of them play at Australian clubs and the other two play their trade for the New Zealand Warriors.

In the countdown to October's World Cup in Australia and New Zealand, Papua New Guinea take on the Cook Islands and Tonga face seventh-ranked Fiji also in Sydney on Saturday.