Captain Mannering keeping calm
The pressure of being tournament holders will not affect New Zealand ahead of the forthcoming World Cup, according to captain Simon Mannering.
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The Kiwis produced an upset when they defeated Australia in Brisbane to win the trophy in 2008, but the fact that happened five years ago underlines how much water has passed under the bridge since that day.
A number of key players are no longer available to them - Benji Marshall has announced plans to pursue a career in rugby union, having been a mainstay of the New Zealand set-up since 2005 - but Sonny Bill Williams is back in a 13-a-side international shirt for the first time since 2007.
And, as a result of all the change, Mannering does not feel as though all eyes will be on his side as the reigning champions.
"There won't be a hell of a lot (of pressure)," the New Zealand Warrior said. "So many things have changed that the sting has gone out of it since 2008.
"We have a lot of new guys in our team today. The guys who played in 2008 will always hold it close to their hearts, but things move on. We can't take anyone lightly and this is a new challenge for us."
New Zealand, Australia and England again head the betting in what is always considered a three-horse race, but Mannering has been heartened by recent results on the international stage.
The United States beat France on Friday - a result considered a real shock but dwarfed when Italy beat England at Salford 24 hours later.
The Tomahawks and the Italians are not expected to be genuine title contenders this year, but Mannering is glad that new blood is starting to come through.
"It's really great to see. Everybody has come here to try and make something happen," the 28-year-old said at the tournament's official launch.
"There are so many quality players out there now that these teams are filled of top-level players."
In the form of Williams, New Zealand have the very epitome of a top-level player.
A World Cup winner in union in 2011, Williams is a true sporting superstar who will wear the Kiwi shirt for the first time since quitting the sport with a distasteful bang in 2008.
Much has been made of Williams and his reintegration, especially after a last-minute u-turn saw him replace Tohu Harris in the New Zealand squad.
"He's just a real asset to us, as he is to whatever team he plays for," Mannering said, playing down any talk of how Williams' last-gasp decision may have upset team harmony.
"He's been great so far, he's been great off the field too. He's very good for the young boys and he will play a key role. He's our team-mate and it's as simple as that."