James Slipper admits he's been surprised by the All Blacks' faltering form but the Wallabies skipper expects them to be at their bruising best for the Bledisloe Cup clash in Melbourne on Thursday night.
New Zealand have lost four of their seven Tests in 2022 but, having never lifted aloft the prized trophy during his 121-Test career, Slipper is adamant there's never an easy time to face Australia's trans-Tasman foes.
With New Zealand the holders, Australia must win both Bledisloe Cup Tests - with the second at Auckland's Eden Park on September 24 - to secure the trophy.
"I've heard that commentary a fair bit but history tells us they're a pretty hard team to beat," said Slipper, who will again lead the Wallabies at a sold-out Marvel Stadium with Michael Hooper still on personal leave.
"They've had the wood on us for 20 years so us as a playing group, we understand what's coming and it's going to be a hard task to win the Bledisloe and it starts tomorrow here."
Asked if he had been surprised by the All Blacks' inconsistent results - like the Wallabies they've failed to string wins together this year, suffering two defeats to Ireland and one each to South Africa and Argentina - Slipper said he was.
"Yes, they're a good team, a big rugby nation and there's a lot of pressure on their outcome," he said.
"They're a team that has a whole country behind them who wants to see them win.
"But I think in terms of world rugby there's been a closing of the gap between southern and northern hemisphere teams."
While 33-year-old Slipper remembers the Wallabies' last Bledisloe series triumph back in 2002, there are some in the playing group who were still in nappies.
The prop said the young players at least carried no scars of years of defeat.
"They haven't gone through the last 10 or 15 years of playing the All Blacks ... they're just excited to get out there as most of them haven't really played the All Blacks consistently," Slipper said.
"In my career we've managed to win a few dead rubbers, the third games, but with with just two games this year we've got to make sure every game counts and we start well."
Playmaker Bernard Foley, 32, will start in his first Test in three years after rejoining the squad and Slipper said it was good to have another old head around.
"Bernard has come in really well and he's really been a big voice in our in our group this week.
"He brings that experience and that composure at the big moments and he's fit in really well."
All Blacks skipper Sam Cane said they were proud of the performance in their last Rugby Championship outing - a 50-point victory over Argentina which sent them to the top of the standings.
But they needed to show their progress by backing it up, with a mostly unchanged side with expectant father, star No.8 Ardie Savea the biggest omission.
"It's certainly time to back it up as we haven't been pleased with our inconsistency this year," Cane said on Wednesday.
"It's only one performance so there's huge desire and hunger to want to put out another one."
The flanker said his team were also driven by the fear of being the first All Blacks outfit in 20 years to surrender the Cup.
"Winning and losing are strong motivators in different ways ... there's a fear of losing it, the pressure, but you look at that in a positive spin too.
"It's something that motivates us to make sure it's not on our watch."