Chris Rattue 's Opinion

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

Chris Rattue: Kiwis already have players to beat Oz

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Frank Pritchard. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Frank Pritchard. Photo / Brett Phibbs

The transtasman battle for test players is taking the heat off the Kiwis. So let's put the heat back on them before the October 13 test in Townsville.

The Kiwis DO already have the players available to beat Australia and are just not putting enough wins on the board. Apart from a few finals victories, the Kiwis' record this century is shocking.

The latter stages of the NRL has shown just how good players such as Frank Pritchard, Greg Eastwood, Isaac Luke and Sam Perrett are. Kieran Foran is among the best halves in the competition. Grand finalists Melbourne have Kiwi forwards in excellent form. There is talent young and old all over the place.

The loss of the odd disputed player such as James Tamou - a big loss - should not be used as an excuse. Test contests can be won on belief and using controversy to build an us-against-the-world attitude. There is a defeated air hanging over the Kiwis - similar to the Wallabies approach to playing the All Blacks - and this latest whinge-athon isn't helping.

The Kiwi administration has had tough battles for players but they don't always have a strong case.

There are State of Origin reasons to hold legitimate anger over the loss of Tamou to Australia, and the potential defection of Sam Kasiano. The ARL commission is, thankfully, looking at Origin eligibility rules to protect the Kiwis selection pool. Otahuhu junior Kasiano - who crossed the ditch aged 16 - should, I believe, be prevented from playing for Australia until that new rule comes in, so he is not lost for good during a transition period.

But the NZRL and their football manager Tony Kemp also need to be careful that they don't push their claims too far and shoot holes in their own arguments.

The so-called spat over the young Canberra Raiders hard nut Josh Papali'i is a red herring and the Kiwis have no right to claim the former Junior Kiwi for life.

So, he signed a worthless letter of intent for the Kiwis at some point. Of course a young bloke is going to take up the chance to play international junior league, and if you shove a bit of paper in front of him, he'll probably sign.

Papali'i was only 6 years old when he went to Queensland. He's been brought up in the heart of the State of Origin hysteria and played for the Queensland under-18s. Whether money is involved in his decision is irrelevant because he is a legitimate Queenslander. End of story.

Most of us can barely remember anything before we were 6 years old. Papalii's formative years were spent in Queensland. You could accuse the NZRL of poaching and manipulating a young player in his case.

Put it this way. He's way more Australian than Kiwis Brent Webb and Nathan Fien were New Zealanders. Put it another way. Nathan Cayless, the World Cup-winning Kiwis captain was born in Australia, lived in Australia, and played for Australian schoolboys.

Papali'i has been caught up in the general controversy and the finer details of his case are being lost.

He has not "turned his back" on the Kiwis - he's gone for the state that he grew up in. You could argue just as strongly that Papali'i initially "turned his back" on Queensland. If the NZRL wants to avoid the risk of "losing" players such as Papali'i, they should quit picking Australian-raised kids in the Junior Kiwis.

Meanwhile, the senior Kiwis must get on with the on-field job, and doing it a lot better than they have been. That's the real issue - because they are good enough to beat Australia.

Wallabies are boring

Quade Cooper is bang on. The way the Wallabies play under coach Robbie Deans is boring, and bound to fail against the All Blacks.

Whether Tweet-ing his criticisms is the right way to go is another matter, but if no one in high places says or does anything, the problem will go on. Australia's record and performances against the All Blacks are so awful that it is a surprise Deans still has the job.

However, Cooper's inference that he is the Wallabies' saviour is debatable because no player is so obviously fragile under pressure.

The reason he has been so good in the Super 15 and so bad in tests is obvious - test rugby is much harder than Super rugby, with less room for the few creative artists left to operate.

As for Cooper's potential move to rugby league, his fragile defence and overall football makeup would be a major problem in the NRL, although his tricky dicky moves are interesting to contemplate.

- NZ Herald

Chris Rattue

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

Chris Rattue writes about a wide range of sports for the New Zealand Herald. He has covered numerous sporting events for the Herald including Rugby World Cups and the 2010 FIFA World Cup.

Read more by Chris Rattue

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