League: Foran looks to brain not brawn to defeat rivals

By Michael Brown

Playmaker has learnt the hard way that 'kamikaze' big hits on opposition players when you are 90kg is not the smartest tactic

Kieran Foran is hoping to make an impact when the Kiwis play the Kangaroos at Canberra Stadium tonight. Photo / Getty Images
Kieran Foran is hoping to make an impact when the Kiwis play the Kangaroos at Canberra Stadium tonight. Photo / Getty Images

Kieran Foran forged a reputation in the early years of his NRL career for his aggressive intent but now he's ready to embrace his softer side.

The 22-year-old was willing to throw his 90kg frame around and attempt to put big hits on opposition players. It won him plenty of admirers but there were others, often coaches, who worried about the damage he was doing to his body and urged him to dispense with his "kamikaze" tactics.

Foran resisted for some time but earlier this year agreed to tone it down. After all, he was supposed to be one of the team's playmakers, not play-stoppers.

It probably didn't help that he lost 7kg after having his tonsils out immediately before the start of the season and he still hasn't put all of that weight back on.

"I was beating my body up unnecessarily and I don't think I was getting the best out of myself because I was trying to whack blokes so hard I was then fatigued for when the team needed me in attack," he says.

"I needed to be a bit smarter about it.

"I'm not putting as much emphasis on my defence and trying to get in there and mix it. I'm saving myself more or less for when my team needs me."

New Zealand need him more than ever in tonight's Anzac test against Australia in Canberra. Without former captain Benji Marshall, Foran is the senior operator in the halves, even though he has played only eight tests.

Running alongside him will be Warriors halfback Shaun Johnson, who is two months younger than Foran but playing only his second test. Foran has also played twice as many NRL games and established a reputation as one of the best five-eighths.

The thing is he's never really transferred that to international football and Foran knows without Marshall he can't let the game pass him by on Friday.

"I have spoken to [Kiwis coach] Steve Kearney about it for a number of years, about my desire to transform my club form to the Kiwis jersey," Foran says. "I feel like I haven't done that and I have let the Kiwi jersey down in the past.

"I think every time I have played, I haven't played as well as I can. That's the big challenge for me this Friday. I know what I am capable of. I need to transfer that to test footy. I don't know why I haven't done that in the past. I don't have Benji beside me [tonight]. I have to step up. There are no ifs or buts about it. I have to transfer my club form to the paddock, providing the big boys lay that platform.

"I wouldn't say it's daunting. I don't really get daunted by much. I'm excited. I'm just hoping I can do the job and, hopefully, we can win."

The Kiwis haven't done that against Australia since the 2010 Four Nations final and haven't won the Anzac test since 1998.

Few expect them to upset the Kangaroos tonight, but Foran will, at least, play in his more accustomed position of five-eighths, with Johnson slotting into halfback.

Some believe the Kiwis will be better without the mercurial Marshall, whose form has been varied for club and country over the past couple of seasons and who the Kiwis have relied heavily on in the past to provide creativity and direction.

Foran will play the steady hand and Johnson has the ability to be unpredictable in what he does.

"I'm really excited about seeing Kieran and Shaun together," Kearney said. "It's disappointing not to have Benji there but I think it has given Kieran an opportunity to assume a bit more responsibility in the running of the group."

It's the sort of role he performs at Manly. He has often talked about as being mature, well beyond his 22 years, and possessing considerable drive and determination to make it in the game.

It might have something to do with the fact he's the younger brother of Liam Foran, who was with him at Manly last year but who hasn't fulfilled the potential many saw in him as a youngster. Liam signed with four NRL clubs in four years before joining Salford in Britain this year.

Kieran's combination with Daly Cherry-Evans is unquestioned and has been a key reason for Manly's success. They are different characters - Cherry-Evans sports a mohawk and Foran a short-back-and-sides - and have different strengths and weaknesses and it's part of what makes their combination work.

Kiwis v Australia

Canberra Stadium, 10.10pm Friday

Kiwis: Josh Hoffman, Sam Perrett, S. Kenny-Dowall, Dean Whare, Jason Nightingale, Kieran Foran, Shaun Johnson, Jesse Bromwich, Issac Luke, J. W-Hargreaves, Frank Pritchard, Kevin Proctor, S. Mannering (c)
Reserves: Elijah Taylor, Sam McKendry, Ben Matulino, Alex Glenn. 18th man: Tohu Harris.

Australia: Billy Slater, Darius Boyd, Greg Inglis, Justin Hodges, Brett Morris, J. Thurston, Cooper Cronk, Matt Scott, Cameron Smith (c), James Tamoum, Greg Bird, Sam Thaiday, Paul Gallen
Reserves: Kurt Gidley, Luke Lewis, Nate Myles, Anthony Watmough. 18th man: Josh Morris.

- APNZ

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