Chris Rattue

Chris Rattue is a sports columnist for the New Zealand Herald.

League: Cup kings become mere mortals

The Kiwis won the World Cup in 2008 but most of those players will not defend it

The Kiwis celebrate with the World Cup but not many of them will take part in the defence. Photo / Getty Images
The Kiwis celebrate with the World Cup but not many of them will take part in the defence. Photo / Getty Images

The Kiwis caused a major shock when they beat the Kangaroos in the 2008 rugby league World Cup final in Brisbane, ending decades of Australian dominance. It also provided impetus for some of the New Zealand players' careers but five years on, only four - Simon Mannering, Issac Luke, Jeremy Smith and Thomas Leuluai - appear certainties for the defence of the crown.

The Kiwis selectors began naming their wider train-on squad this week. The Weekend Herald casts an eye over the 2008 side which won the final and assesses their chances of playing in this year's tournament late next month.

Lance Hohaia - A star of the 2008 final, he might have remained a utility/hooker option despite the move to St Helens. But Hohaia has fallen off the radar ... and that's just at St Helens. He was a big signing for the famous English club but things have not gone well with Hohaia playing a host of positions and dropping to the bench. The 30-year-old, who was a fan favourite at the Warriors, won't be adding to his 29 caps, the last of which came in 2011.

Sam Perrett - The Bulldogs wing, who switched from the Roosters during the 2012 season, won selection for this year's Anzac test but has lost his zip and there are more tantalising wing options including rising superstar Roger Tuivasa-Sheck. A consummate type of flank man, Perrett always lacked extremes in power, pace and size, and at the age of 28 his test career may be over.

Simon Mannering - Captain Genuine. From the moment Mannering doggedly chased a long-range lost cause on debut against Australia at Mt Smart Stadium in 2006, Kiwi fans had every reason to suspect they had found a special player to hang their hopes on. Mannering has taken over from high-profile captains - Steve Price at the Warriors and Benji Marshall with the Kiwis - but there has never been a whiff of conspiracy, which further indicates the respect he is held in. Wins rave reviews from his fellow players for hard-nosed, non-stop performances that will be critical in this tournament.

Jerome Ropati - No chance and missed the training squad. A sometimes valuable NRL performer, but Ropati's career hasn't taken off the way it might have with injuries a major problem.

Manu Vatuvei - By no means a certainty, the blockbusting Warriors wing has moved back into calculations after stronger NRL performances of late. At his best he's the beast on the wing, can drag down the crossfield bombs, and is capable of winning plenty of metres with thundering charges up the middle. Still prone to defensive frailties, but on his good days a matchwinner. May have done just enough to sneak back into the black jersey.

Benji Marshall - A fabulous, ground-breaking career but one which crashed in a blaze of headlines this year. Marshall jumped before he was pushed this week when the first World Cup training squad members were announced. The magician's form has been awful at Wests Tigers in one of the most dramatic of league career collapses. His across-the-field instincts are out of touch with the modern game, and he has been shy of the physical battle. His random style was proving a problem for the Kiwis anyway, and Manly's Kieran Foran had usurped him as the premier No6. Rugby union awaits.

Nathan Fien - A tough battler by test standards, the central character in the embarrassing Grannygate controversy retired after the 2013 NRL season, a disappointing one for his St George Illawarra side. Fien was rated by some as the best Kiwi at the 2008 World Cup and if his successor Shaun Johnson - a very different player - can win similar accolades, New Zealand will be well on the way to retaining the trophy.

Nathan Cayless - Quiz question - who captained the winning 2008 team? Cayless was a low-profile leader who did a sterling job in 2008. The Parramatta stalwart quit test football the following year and retired in 2010.

Thomas Leuluai - A certain selection, particularly as the 28-year-old utility is the only decent back-up to the Kiwis' brilliant dummy half Issac Luke. Leuluai bucked the trend by retaining a Kiwi place when playing in England, and he has proven his warrior capabilities at the Warriors this year. Leuluai is hardly world class in any position and can die with the ball for a playmaker, but his fantastic attitude bridges a lot of gaps.

Adam Blair - Once a central figure in the Kiwis, Blair's career nosedived at Wests Tigers after moving from Melbourne. The swagger which was a hallmark of his game has evaporated. The backrower was switched by the Tigers to prop where he did improve, but Blair only just makes the queue of Kiwi candidates. His 2013 lethargy is hard to fathom and Wests are apparently trying to offload their big money signing.

The star Kiwi forward in the 2008 tournament will be missing from this campaign unless injuries strike many others.

David Fa'alogo - Shifting to England is never good for a test career and despite Fa'alogo's return to the NRL with Newcastle this year, the 32-year-old was well out of Kiwi considerations and opted to join Samoa for this year's World Cup.

Bronson Harrison - Made the 2008 squad as an injury replacement and went on to start in the final. Faded as a test prospect after a poor season for the Raiders in 2011. The Kiwis are rich in backrow options and although he has made the train-on squad, Harrison won't make the final cut.

Jeremy Smith - Smith has become an NRL gun for hire but a constant change of clubs has not dimmed his importance to the Kiwis. Smith - who missed this year's Anzac clash through suspension - was the popular tip to replace Marshall as captain, an indication of his standing. His tough attitude and leadership remain at the core of the Kiwi plans.


Reserves

Issac Luke is virtually irreplaceable in the 2013 World Cup campaign. Photo / Getty Images
Issac Luke is virtually irreplaceable in the 2013 World Cup campaign. Photo / Getty Images

Issac Luke - League's best dummy half runner, the finest hooker in Kiwis history and virtually irreplaceable in the World Cup campaign. Having overcome early struggles in the NRL, the South Sydney superstar is a candidate for first-man-picked in the Kiwis these days.

Greg Eastwood - A fractured hand has not helped Eastwood's cause. Perhaps the man with most to play for in the NRL playoffs in terms of World Cup selection, Eastwood has been left out of the Bulldogs lineup which takes on the Knights tomorrow.

One suspects the selectors will not discard the tough, stepping backrower lightly, but he is probably an outside prospect.

Sam Rapira - The undersized prop blasts away at defensive lines and at his best, delivers the quickest play-the-balls in the business. But injuries have curtailed his career, he once turned down the Kiwis jersey and Rapira will miss out to the bigger more powerful options at the selectors' disposal although he is in the train-on squad.

Sika Manu - The 2013 Penrith forward had a blistering start to the 2008 tournament but was later hampered by an eye injury. He was initially included in a Tongan training squad in 2008 and will play for them at this tournament having fallen away as a frontline Kiwis prospect.

- NZ Herald

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