Tim Sheens could quite conceivably have named the exact same 17 that propelled Australia to one of its greatest-ever wins in the 2013 World Cup final. But a pair of injuries and a couple of form-based choices means only 13 survivors from the 34-2 demolition of New Zealand at Old Trafford will line up against the Kiwis again on Friday night at Allianz.
Jarryd Hayne was forced out with a shoulder complaint, but instead of long-time automatic rep selection Justin Hodges returning to the green and gold at right centre after an injury layoff, the selectors opted for Cup squad member Josh Morris – despite the fact he plays on the left for Canterbury. Josh and in-form Dragons’ winger Brett Morris will renew their unique twin brother combination on the right side.
Breakout stars and international rookies in 2013, Andrew Fifita and Josh Papalii were dropped from the bench after subpar starts to this season at club level. World Cup back-ups Nate Myles and Boyd Cordner are the somewhat surprising replacements, with selectors ignoring the overwhelming claims of Tigers’ prop Aaron Woods, Trent Merrin and Manly veteran Anthony Watmough, who missed the Cup with injury.
Matt Gillett’s blistering form was rewarded with an 18th man call-up, but an injury to Brisbane teammate Sam Thaiday has seen the dynamic backrower come into the squad for a Test debut. Gillett’s replacement as 18th man is arguably the most confusing of all, with 32-year-old Brent Tate, a veteran of 26 Tests, joining the Kangaroos. The 18th man position is usually reserved for an emerging star on the cusp of an international call-up (like Gillett); the only way to justify Tate’s selection is as a reward for many years of excellent rep service, or if there is an injury concern lurking in Australia’s three-quarter line.
Regardless of which Kangaroos side trots out on Friday, they will be close to the shortest-priced trans-Tasman Test favourites since betting on rugby league was introduced.
Kiwis dubbed ‘worst ever’
Despite being in the midst of an era of unprecedented quality and depth, New Zealand has named what appears on paper to be one of its weakest line-ups in recent memory. A combination of an extraordinary injury toll, form concerns and a number of inexplicable omissions leaves Stephen Kearney in charge of a remarkably inexperienced, ragtag bunch.
Just six players remain from the Kiwis’ World Cup final side – regarded as arguably their strongest ever – and six Test debutants have been named in the 18-man squad. Kenny Bromwich joins older brother Jesse in the New Zealand squad in his sophomore NRL season, a veteran of 17 first grade games. Prop Martin Taupau has been rewarded for his rampaging form in his first season with Wests Tigers, after making just 21 NRL appearances in four seasons with Canterbury. Backrower/centre Ben Henry has emerged from a horror injury run to claim his maiden Kiwi jumper after only 34 games for the Warriors.
Despite being Penrith’s back-up half and spending most of this season in NSW Cup, Cook Islands World Cup rep Isaac John has received the call-up with just 42 NRL and Super League appearances to his name. Outstanding Manly utility back Peta Hiku is likely to line up at fullback in his debut Test, excelling in the No.1 during Brett Stewart’s regular absences but starring wherever he has played in the backline in 21 NRL games. Meanwhile, Siliva Havili must rank among the all-time biggest representative bolters with just three interchange appearances – as a backrower – for the Warriors under his belt, thrust into the Test cauldron with a potential 80-minute dummy-half role beckoning.
While the selections of John and Havili came from left-field, they literally were the last options available after injuries robbed the already meagre Kiwi five-eighth and hooker stocks of Kieran Foran, Isaac Luke, Thomas Leuluai, Josh Hoffman, Elijah Taylor and Lewis Brown. Other injury casualties include Manu Vatuvei and Frank Pritchard, while Sonny Bill Williams made himself unavailable but was not being considered due to his impending return to Rugby Union.
But the biggest shock of all has been the non-selection of Roosters prop Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, regarded as one of the world’s finest front-rowers after a career-best 2013 season. Club-mates Frank-Paul Nuuausala and Shaun-Kenny Dowall, Warriors’ mainstay Ben Matulino and in-form Brisbane second-rower Alex Glenn were other stunning omissions, while World Cup squad members Kevin Locke, Sam Kasiano and Krisnan Inu were overlooked after featuring in NSW Cup during 2014.
Kearney denied the sleeping pill scandal that has since shrouded the Kiwis’ Cup campaign had anything to do with the squad picked, but Waerea-Hargreaves’ absence is unfathomable purely on form-based grounds. Adam Blair and Gerard Beale also received surprise recalls as the New Zealand squad produced layer upon layer of baffling features.
The New Zealand side aiming to break an eight-Test drought against Australia and win their first mid-season Test against Australia since 1998 is likely to line up as follows:
Peta Hiku, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, Dean Whare, Gerard Beale, Jason Nightingale, Isaac John, Shaun Johnson, Jesse Bromwich, Siliva Havili, Sam Moa, Simon Mannering (c), Kevin Proctor, Adam Blair. Interchange: Greg Eastwood, Tohu Harris, Ben Henry, Martin Taupau. 18th man: Kenny Bromwich.
RIP Ryan Tandy
The rugby league community has been shocked and saddened by the news of the passing of former NRL forward Ryan Tandy, found dead of a suspected drug overdose in his parents’ home yesterday. The 32 year old played 36 first grade games with five clubs (including two mid-season switches) across eight seasons in a colourful career, but is most remembered as the villain at the centre of a brazen betting rort in a 2010 match between his Canterbury side and North Queensland. Banned for life from rugby league, Tandy was in the news earlier this year after allegedly being involved in a kidnapping.
There were glittering highlights in his modest career. After representing Ireland at the 2008 World Cup after spending the season with Wests Tigers, the burly prop was snapped up by Melbourne midway through ’09 and celebrated in a Grand Final triumph over Parramatta in just his sixth match for the club. He was released at the height of the Storm’s salary cap scandal the following season – his first as a genuine NRL regular – which led to his fateful stint with the Bulldogs.
Tributes have poured in from former teammates in the hours after the news of his death broke, describing Tandy as a charismatic, kind-hearted knockabout bloke. The NRL had little choice to wash its hands of the roguish Tandy following his misdeeds, but it is a poignant and tragic case study in light of the multiple player suicides that gripped the game in 2013.
After spending the first season of his reign as ARL Commission chairman trying to get his head on TV as often as possible, John Grant has been notably absent from the public eye. He may have wished he had remained in the shadows instead of naming the Australian Test side on Sunday, becoming an easy target for referencing non-existent clubs the Cronulla-Sutherland Hawks and the Manly Seagulls when announcing the selection of Paul Gallen and Daly Cherry-Evans respectively. The drawn-out establishment of the Commission was supposed to herald a grand new era of rugby league administration, but on the surface it has made little impact – and its figurehead’s embarrassing faux pas has done little for its credibility, despite his contrite apology yesterday.
GI is No.1, but rep jumpers still Billy’s
If there was any doubt beforehand, Greg Inglis’ blistering performance against Brisbane – highlighted by a simply mesmerising individual try already regarded as one of the greatest of all-time – confirmed the Souths superstar is the undisputed best fullback in the world. His superlative form has amplified calls for Inglis to replace Billy Slater, who has endured an indifferent start to 2014 in the No.1 jumper in the Queensland and Australian line-ups.
But dumping Slater, touted by many as the greatest since Churchill, would be incredibly harsh. The out-of-sorts Melbourne maestro – who made five errors in the upset loss to the Warriors – has perpetually delivered on the representative stage. And while the Kangaroos (who have picked Slater for next Friday’s Test) have a wealth of centre options should Inglis be moved to fullback, the Maroons do not enjoy the same luxury – taking Inglis out of their three-quarter line would leave a sizeable hole and eliminate one of the biggest strengths of their eight-year reign.
Drafting in Will Chambers, Dane Gagai or (gulp) Dane Nielsen at centre effectively at Slater’s expense would be a crazy decision, and one Meninga and co. will definitely not make.
On the rise
Powerhouse centre Kirisome Auva’a has been a shining light in a largely underperforming South Sydney three-quarter since making a wonderful debut against Penrith, scoring two tries in three appearances to date. The Samoa-born 22 year old, a former Melbourne NYC star, appears more than comfortable in the top flight, impressing with his rampaging runs and physical presence. Despite attending high school in Ipswich, Auva’a is only eligible for New Zealand, where he played junior football for Auckland club Otahuhu.
Drafted in to debut after club legend Nathan Merritt was sensationally axed, Alex Johnston marked a strong maiden NRL display with a spectacular first half try in the thrilling win over Brisbane. The 19-year-old local junior (La Perouse) represents the Rabbitohs’ next generation and will be difficult to keep out of first grade for the remainder of 2014.
Tall winger David Fusitua enjoyed a breakthrough performance in his third NRL game for the Warriors, starring in the gritty win over Melbourne. Fusitua opened the scoring with a brilliant put-down in the corner, produced an outstanding assist for Shaun Johnson’s decisive try with a tremendous no-look offload and finished with figures of 120 metres from 14 runs.
On the slide
Dumped from the Test side after finishing 2013 as arguably the best prop – and one of the best forwards – in the world, Andrew Fifita has freely admitted his contract sagas have affected his form. Although he has been typically dangerous and destructive with the ball in hand, Fifita’s play has been plagued by errors and ill-discipline, as illustrated by his erratic performance against Penrith. Although he will be one of the first players picked in NSW’s side for the series opener, there are plenty of fine in-form front-rowers gagging for an opportunity should Fifita continue to falter.
Will has published two books on Rugby League:
- A History of State of Origin
- A Short History of Rugby League in Australia
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