League: Johnson to come in for Benji

By Michael Brown

Benji Marshall. Photo / Getty Images
Benji Marshall. Photo / Getty Images

Losing Benji Marshall and Gerard Beale is not the sort of news Kiwis fans hoping for a first win in the Anzac test since 1998 wanted to hear, but the loss of two key players is not as grievous as it once might have been.

Marshall injured his toe early in the Wests Tigers' 26-12 defeat to Melbourne last night and left the ground in a moonboot. He was due to have scans today but initial reports suggested the former Kiwis skipper could be sidelined for up to three months with turf toe (metatarsophalangeal joint sprain).

Warriors halfback Shaun Johnson looms as the most likely replacement, which would see Kieran Foran move from halfback to five-eighth where he plays for Manly.

Johnson made his Kiwis debut in last year's Anzac test - he scored a runaway try - and the 22-year-old was also 18th man for last October's one-off test with Australia in Townsville. He would also come into the frame to assume the goal-kicking duties.

"Shaun will come into consideration," Kearney said. "He played Junior Kiwis, has been a part of the group and has played one test so he's had that sort of exposure."

Beale, who played on the wing in last October's 18-10 defeat to Australia in Townsville, is likely to be out for the rest of the season after rupturing his anterior cruciate ligament playing for the Dragons over the weekend. It would be his third knee construction since his NRL debut in 2009.

Wing is an area with good depth with the likes of Sam Perrett, Jason Nightingale, Matt Duffie, Manu Vatuvei and Roger Tuivasa-Sheck but Kearney won't want any more injuries to key players.

"Over the course of five years [I have been coach] the depth has grown and we have given guys like Shaun opportunities," Kearney said. "We are in a better position but we have to keep maintaining that and building even more depth in all positions."

It's why there aren't likely to be too many surprises in the 19-man Kiwis side named on Sunday. Many of those who played in last October's test are in good form and others like Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, who was dropped for the last test, demand selection and he is an obvious replacement for the injured Sam Kasiano.

The forward pack will once again be New Zealand's strength with the likes of Waerea-Hargreaves, Jesse Bromwich, Sam McKendry, Ben Matulino, Greg Eastwood, Issac Luke, Simon Mannering, Sonny Bill Williams, Jeremy Smith and Frank Pritchard. Thomas Leuluai is likely to provide backup at both hooker and in the halves.

Centre is one area of contention with Krisnan Inu suspended, Beale injured and Steve Matai having committed to Samoa. Dean Whare and Shaun Kenny-Dowall look the most likely candidates, especially with question marks around Warriors centre Konrad Hurrell's defence. Josh Hoffman is favoured to get the fullback's berth.

Kearney is due to meet fellow selectors Richie Barnett, Tony Iro and Tawera Nikau in the next couple of days before Sunday's team announcement.

"There are some guys who are playing really good footy at the moment so they have given themselves every opportunity," Kearney said. "We have an eye on the World Cup, too, but we feel the team we pick for this side will be one that has some form behind it.

"It's a test match against Australia so we can't take chances in that sense. We will be picking a side that can do a job for us. If that means having a bolter, so be it, but we won't taking any chances."

Possible Kiwis squad: Simon Mannering (c), Jesse Bromwich, Greg Eastwood, Kieran Foran, Josh Hoffman, Shaun Johnson, Shaun Kenny-Dowall, Thomas Leuluai, Issac Luke, Ben Matulino, Sam McKendry, Jason Nightingale, Sam Perrett, Frank Pritchard, Kevin Proctor, Jeremy Smith, Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, Dean Whare, Sonny Bill Williams.

- APNZ

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on red akl_n2 at 22 Apr 2014 04:10:56 Processing Time: 760ms