Richie Barnett on league

Opinion and analysis from former Kiwis captain Richie Barnett

Richie Barnett: Kiwis show that size and toughness does matter

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Shaun Johnson (L) of New Zealand in action. Photo / Getty Images
Shaun Johnson (L) of New Zealand in action. Photo / Getty Images

If New Zealand and England, who also have plenty of big forwards, can play to their strengths, through the middle at tiring defences, it will help them get a roll-on.

I'm convinced size will play a big part in winning this World Cup and that's one thing the Kiwis have a lot of.

When picking the 24-man squad for the tournament, we had a game plan in mind and looked for players who could implement it. What we came up with was a squad full of size, skill and toughness.

With 12 interchanges allowed in international league, as opposed to the 10 in the NRL, it allows New Zealand coach Stephen Kearney the opportunity to rotate his big men more often.

This approach could be a risk, especially as Australia have opted for a more mobile pack, but it could also be a huge asset and something that helps the Kiwis retain the World Cup. We will find out at the end which strategy was the right one.

If New Zealand and England, who also have plenty of big forwards, can play to their strengths and launch a continuous barrage of big men through the middle at tiring defences, it will help them get a roll-on and they could be hard to stop.

That's something hooker Issac Luke can exploit, particularly on the back of a quick play-the-ball. But there's also the danger of the big men tiring, which will allow smaller, smarter and fitter guys to take advantage of any holes.

It's how Australia are attacking this World Cup. They have picked only three recognised front rowers, using the likes of Paul Gallen, Sam Thaiday and Josh Papalii as props when they need to, and also have Cameron Smith who is the master of controlling a game out of dummy half.

New Zealand have some very big men and they need to be careful, and that's where the likes of Simon Mannering, Elijah Taylor and Sonny Bill Williams, who are all very fit, need to tie things up and slow the ruck speed.

Even though I am a Kiwis selector, I have no influence over who Kearney picks for each game.

Once the team go into camp, it's all up to the coaching staff of Kearney, Ivan Cleary and Tony Iro. They are living and breathing it and know what to do and they are three smart operators.

That said, it's time they started playing their best 17. They have had a look at everyone now except, of course, Thomas Leuluai who has been injured but with 30 tests under his belt they know what he can do.

It's now about developing combinations and confidence.

The win against France last weekend was a decent one, particularly defensively, but there is still room for a lot of improvement in attack.

It looked like they tried to force things and moved away from the game plan that will win this World Cup.

They went wide too quickly without having done the work through the middle and lacked polish and rhythm. League is a simple game and the Kiwis would do well to keep things simple.

- NZ Herald

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