League: Kiwis debut big as it gets - Johnson

By Steve Deane

Four debutants have been named in  the Kiwis squad for Friday's ANZAC test against Australia in Auckland. Photo / Getty Images.
Four debutants have been named in the Kiwis squad for Friday's ANZAC test against Australia in Auckland. Photo / Getty Images.

Shaun Johnson will make one of the more anticipated Kiwis debuts on Friday night against the Kangaroos after Kieran Foran's troublesome hamstring ruled the Manly playmaker out of contention.

Johnson and Broncos back Gerard Beale have been drafted into the side following the loss to injury of Sea Eagles duo Foran and Steve Matai. Reports on Matai's fitness were sketchy, however the rugged centre is believed to have been transported to hospital in an ambulance after injuring his shoulder during Saturday night's defeat by Gold Coast Titans at Brookvale.

A clearly emotional Johnson took a deep breath to compose himself when asked what his Kiwis callup meant to him.

"It means a lot," he said. "Obviously growing up playing footy you want to play for your country one day."

That day would have come last year but for Johnson pulling out of the Four Nations tour due to concerns about the workload on a long-standing back ailment.

Instead it now comes at the expense of the injured Foran.

Rough outings, particularly on defence, against the Roosters and Raiders had appeared to rule Johnson out of contention for Friday night's Eden Park encounter. However, with the Warriors having scored a morale-boosting victory over the Rabbitohs yesterday, Johnson will head into the test in a positive frame of mind.

"It was good to score some points that was for sure. That has to be a credit to our forwards. They ran hard all day and put us on the front foot."

Breaking into the Kiwis had been on his to-do list this season, he confirmed.

"I wasn't too sure it would be the Anzac test but it is something I thought I was capable of doing. You've got to aim high and I don't think there is anything higher than playing for your country.

"It is going to be nerve-wracking but hopefully not too much has to change. I'm playing against the players I play week-in week-out so if I can keep it [simple] I am sure it will help."

While the Johnson-Marshall axis may raise a few defensive concerns, it does project as perhaps the most-exciting halves combination ever fielded by the Kiwis. Promising young forward Jason Taumalolo has also been named in the squad. The 18-year-old Cowboys prodigy continued his impressive rookie season with two tries against the Roosters on Friday night.

As revealed by the Weekend Herald on Saturday, the squad also contains uncapped Broncos fullback Josh Hoffman, Storm prop Jesse Bromwich and Bulldogs forward Frank Pritchard.

Cameron Smith has been named as Darren Lockyer's replacement as captain of Australia.

The Queensland and Melbourne hooker was widely tipped to take over as skipper, with Paul Gallen handed the vice-captaincy role.

North Queensland prop James Tamou will make his debut off the bench at Eden Park against the world champions.

South Sydney's Dave Taylor will also debut, starting in the back-row, after missing the Four Nations tour of the UK due to injury last year.

ANZAC TEST SQUADS

New Zealand

Gerard Beale, Alex Glenn, Josh Hoffman, Frank Pritchard, Jeremy Smith, Jesse Bromwich, Jason Taumalolo, Shaun Johnson, Simon Mannering, Ben Matulino, Manu Vatuvei, Sam McKendry, Issac Luke, Nathan Fien, Jason Nightingale, Shaun Kenny-Dowall, Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, Adam Blair, Benji Marshall (c).

Australia

Billy Slater, Darius Boyd, Greg Inglis, Justin Hodges, Akuila Uate, Johnathan Thurston, Cooper Cronk, Paul Gallen, Cameron Smith (c), David Shillington, David Taylor, Sam Thaiday, Luke Lewis, Daly Cherry-Evans, Ben Hannant, James Tamou, Anthony Watmough, Matt Gillett.

- NZ Herald

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