NRL: Changing of the guard

By Steve Deane

Thirteen of the 19-man Kiwis squad have featured in NRL finals.

Manu Vatuvei has joined discarded vice-captain Adam Blair as the highest-profile casualties.  Photo / Greg Bowker
Manu Vatuvei has joined discarded vice-captain Adam Blair as the highest-profile casualties. Photo / Greg Bowker

His dodgy knees have cost him plenty of international caps but blockbusting Warriors wing Manu Vatuvei wasn't left out of the Kiwis test squad because of injury this time.

After an uneven NRL season during which he scored 12 tries in 20 games but coughed up 38 errors - the third-most in the NRL - Vatuvei has been dropped on form, his place likely to go to uncapped Manly back Dean Whare or Broncos utility Gerard Beale.

A veteran of 152 NRL games and 20 tests, Vatuvei joined discarded vice-captain Adam Blair as the highest-profile casualties of a selection policy that appears geared to next year's World Cup. With fellow veterans Steve Matai, Jared Waerea-Hargreaves and Sika Manu also unwanted, coach Stephen Kearney's squad has a changing-of-the-guard look about it.

"Manu and Adam have been big parts of the Kiwis campaign for a number of years now and it's tough to leave players like that out," Kearney said. "In terms of what they need to do [to get back], that's between me and the players."

With 13 of the 19-man squad having featured in the NRL finals, the Kiwis selectors had placed a premium on players who remained active during September.

"We have picked it on form," Kearney said. "Guys who weren't involved in the Anzac test like Greg Eastwood, Sam Kasiano and Kevin Proctor - they are there because of the form, particularly through the finals series.

"There's no doubt there's a bit of an eye on the World Cup but it's important to have a real focus on what we want to do in Townsville."

British-based players such as Thomas Leuluai and Lance Hohaia hadn't been considered because of the difficulties they would face adjusting to the change of climate. "The main hurdle is that they are about to go into winter and it's 32 degrees in Townsville. Throw into that 24 hours of travel and it just doesn't work. We were very mindful of that."

While happy to have boom Bulldogs prop Kasiano in the ranks for the first time, Kearney described the eligibility debate that has raged since James Tamou's defection to Australia and New South Wales as a "broken record".

"I think enough has been said about it. We are pleased to have Sam on board. With Josh [Papali'i] he went to Queensland when he was 6. I understand his pull of wanting to play for Queensland.

"People were saying when Sonny Bill [Williams] went to rugby union that our game was in trouble but talent always gets regenerated."

Kangaroos coach Tim Sheens has named a powerful 18-man squad, with Dally M winner Ben Barba the most significant omission.

- NZ Herald

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on red akl_n3 at 30 Aug 2014 17:49:40 Processing Time: 513ms