Kiwis limping into Anzac test
IT took about two hours for Stephen Kearney's best-laid Anzac test plans to start looking a bit shaky yesterday.
The coach unveiled his line-up for another crack at what remains the Kiwis' unconquerable peak before yesterday's training session at the posh Southport Boys School, but it didn't take long for two of Kearney's key troops to chuck it in and return to base.
Back rower Adam Blair twisted an ankle and took refuge on a training table, while hooker Nathan Fien decided his dicky hamstring would be better served by resting than attempting to propel him around a pitch sodden by recent heavy rain.
Given the session was no more than a gentle run through, the casualty rate was alarming.
The situation underscored the difficulty the Kiwis face trying to prepare for a test match on a scratch preparation that will involve more recovery than game-based training. It also suggested Kearney had good reason for naming a squad of 19 players.
As it stands young Storm winger Matthew Duffie will be the only Kiwis debutant tomorrow night.
Uncapped pair Lewis Brown and Gerard Beale have been left out of a side holding 13 of the 17 players that won November's Four Nations final in Brisbane.
While it seems there is a good chance at least one of Brown or Beale will be needed, team doctor Simon Mayhew was optimistic about Blair and Fien's prospects.
Fien's withdrawal was precautionary, while Blair's sprain was fairly mild, Mayhew said.
"We'll see how he goes over the next 24 hours but he is feeling more comfortable [after training]. It is always hard to tell straight away but looking at it now my experience is that there is every chance he will play."
Kearney has shuffled his pack a bit, inserting Sam Rapira and Sam McKendry as his starting props, while naming Blair alongside Bronson Harrison and Jeremy Smith in an experienced back row.
Canterbury-raised Duffie was kept away from the media yesterday, leaving his centre partner on the Kiwis' left-hand flank, Simon Mannering, to do the talking before what promises to be a major test against in-form Broncos duo Justin Hodges and Jharal Yow Yeh.
"[Duffie's] obviously been picked because he can do a job and I'm sure he'll do that," Mannering said. "He's still a young guy but he's from a very good NRL club in Melbourne Storm so he has had a very good upbringing in the game. He backs his ability and I'm sure he'll do that [tomorrow night]."
The Kiwis have never won the Anzac test in Australia since the first was played in Sydney in 1997. Their only success came at North Harbour Stadium in 1998, the lone time it was played in New Zealand.
Tomorrow's marks the return of props Rapira and Fuifui Moimoi and halfback Kieran Foran, who all missed the Four Nations campaign. But the core of the side remains stable, giving Kearney hope the Kiwis can claim a rare Anzac test success.
"We've been able build some consistency in our selections in recent years," he said. "The side has become more settled and we've also been able to develop a little more in terms of experience and our combinations.
"While we're improving in that area, the Australians still lead the way with representative experience and depth. They certainly have an advantage there for a one-off match of this type but our challenge is to try to keep building."
The Kangaroos have made one change to the side named on Sunday, with Sharks prop Kade Snowdon replacing the injured David Shillington.
Skilled Park, Robina, 10pm tomorrow
Jharal Yow Yeh
Darren Lockyer (c)
Benji Marshall (c)
Australia: Cooper Cronk, Ben Hannant, Jamal Idris, Kade Snowdon.
Kiwis: Issac Luke, Ben Matulino, Fuifui Moimoi, Greg Eastwood. Lewis Brown (18th man).