Wednesday 21 March 2018 / 02:48 AM


Reaction, analysis and talking points from the Representative Round team lists

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No two ways about it, Andrew Fifita deserves to be in the Australian team. That out of the way, some of these selections are head-scratching. Whenever referencing the area in which New Zealand may be able to hang with Australia, the answer is always unanimous – the forward pack.

With that considered, looking through the Kangroos’ squad is a different experience. We’ll count David Klemmer, despite starting at lock for the Bulldogs (and playing his best football in his career either there or from the bench), as a natural prop.

So, the pack only features two props: starters Fifita and Klemmer, with three back-rowers in Frizell, Trbojevic and Thaiday coming from the pine. If the importance of bench play in the 2017 premiership is anything to go by, this might be a problematic area. Sure, Merrin (sigh), Thaiday and Turbo senior can double-up and play some front-row, but with the likes of McLean, Napa, Paulo, Vaughn, Prior and James overlooked, and this weakness being the Kiwis’ biggest strength, the importance has been overlooked. This in perspective makes any hesitancy of selecting Fifita seem ridiculous (off-field issues and Tongan selection notwithstanding).

Bench stars’ time to shine

Across the board, one of the undeniable strengths of many teams this year has been the power of players coming off the interchange. Rep round puts the NRL player depth on full display, with the often under-appreciated workhorses of the competition getting the well-earned opportunity to stand front and centre.

It’s not often players who aren’t the headlining stars get credit for their work – and the likes of Alex Glenn, Leeson Ah Mau, Chris Heighington, Leivaha Pulu, Adam Elliott, Leilani Latu and Herman Ese’ese have been pivotal to the success of their respective teams, deserving recognition for their great form.

Origin Trial

Once the selling point of City-Country, games across the round feature many of the battles that will shape the Origin selection in a few weeks’ time. In the Australian team, Blues Blake Ferguson and Trent Merrin need big showings to prove their ability at representative level for any hope of selection, whilst Darius Boyd needs to be his cerebral self to cement his spot at fullback for the Maroons.

Elsewhere, Samoa trio Milford, Paulo and Leiluia are right on brink of Origin contention. With an opportunity against England to demonstrate their star power, this shapes as a must-watch. The NSW hooker debate is sure to kick off once again (even though Peats should be a no-brainer at this point), with bolters Cook and McInnes going head-to-head and Api Koroisau running out for Fiji a day prior. Whilst City-Country features some Origin hopefuls, namely Paul Vaughn, Matt Prior and James Tamou, it’s hard to take it all too seriously considering the lowered level of competition.

The average talent level is sub-NRL standard, and compared to the intensity of the international fixtures it’s nothing more than an exhibition.

Injury Disappointments

Whilst the Pacific Islands teams are remarkably stacked and the ANZAC Test features the biggest stars of the game, there are a few pull-outs that may have pushed these teams to new levels. Tonga lost Jorge Tafua not long after naming the team, followed by the dynamic centre pairing of Konrad Hurrell and Michael Jennings, followed by captain Sika Manu pulling out. Then the Kangaroos took Fifita off them.

PNG lost their integral NRL trio in David Mead, Kurt Baptise and Nene MacDonald, leaving them void of any NRL players. The Kangaroos lost Aaron Woods and Shannon Boyd to injuries, England were hit by an injury to influential half Gareth Widdop. Most unfortunately, stud prospect Nelson Asofa-Solomona, who was slated for his NZ debut, was forced to withdraw. A future star, an introduction to the Test arena would have worked wonders for his development.

The plethora of replacements are more than capable, but the disillusion here is two-fold – the fans want to see the best players and the players themselves deserve the validation of performance and to showcase their abilities.

R.I.P City v Country

The last instalment of the City-Country match rolls around on Sunday, to moderate dissatisfaction. Looking through the team lists, and the quality of maybe the last five encounters, it’s not hard to see why it’s been scrapped.

The allure of an Origin trial disappeared once Origin became the phenomenon it is today and without the prestige, interest lessened each year. Removing emotion, it’s clear the game has simply outgrown the need for this showcase.

The biggest outcry has been about giving back to, and growing the game in the country. If that’s a legitimate concern, they deserve real NRL football and not the abridged version of what used to be a semi-interesting fixture. With bigger fish to fry, no time should be wasted in mourning its death. Still, the ‘rep’ debut of Nathan Cleary, among a host of potential Origin players might be worth tuning in for.

Stray Observations

  • After weeks of my petitioning (and succeeding!) for Connor Watson’s removal from the Roosters’ bench, he has been picked there for City. Congrats, Connor.
  • Nobody panic, but Tuimola Lolahea is playing important rugby league this week.
  • City will start a back-row of Curtis Sironen, David Gower and Hame Sele. Need more proof as to why the fixture is dead?
  • Dean Whare, who has completed a rare comeback to international football, will prove a pain for the Australian attack. A defensive specialist, look for him to shut down whoever he is guarding. If he falls on Dugan’s side, he could complete nullify him.
  • Jason Taumololo needs a signature perfomance at Test level. He’s yet to have one, and this week is his best opportunity yet. And the Kiwis need it.
  • While he’s far from the chopping block, Mal Meninga hasn’t led the Australian team to any dominance. Last year’s Tests were dour wins, and the Four Nations was against weak competition. Australia are heavy favourites – as they should be – and following some questionable picks, a big win would go a long way to justification.
  • While it lacks star power, City-Country is a nice chance to highlight some B-level players in superb form. Cody Walker, Tyrone Roberts, Josh Addo-Carr and Clint Gutherson may be far from Origin contention but get a shout out for some stellar play for their teams.
  • Its good to see NZ bleeding in some fresh talent and moving past guys whose best years are behind them. Omissions of Nightingale, SKD and Lewis Brown in favour of players like NAS, DWZ, Nikorima and Fusitua will help shape the future of their squad, especially with the World Cup in mind.
  • Although he’ll line up for Samoa, Josh McGuire should still feel aggrieved about missing out on the Australian No.13 in favour of Trent Merrin. While there is always going to be snubs at this level, after outplaying him for the whole season and then head-to-head last week, who the superior player is shouldn’t be in question. Considering the prop deficit McGuire would have made the more effective choice.
  • Considering all the drama that forever lingers around the NRL, lets, for one damn week, leave the outrage on the bench and focus in on what will be some very interesting clashes. Enjoy the football!

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About the author

Brayden Issa

Brayden is a Sydney-based sports management student and sports fanatic, specialising in rugby league, basketball, football and cricket. He is concerned with everything related to professional sports performance and management.

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