Richie Barnett on league

Opinion and analysis from former Kiwis captain Richie Barnett

Richie Barnett: SBW faces different kind of test

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Sonny Bill Williams of the Roosters. Photo / Getty Images
Sonny Bill Williams of the Roosters. Photo / Getty Images

As a Kiwi selector I can't give too much away about the test side we will name this weekend. But I can state the obvious with regards to Sonny Bill Williams - he has already been most impressive in his return to league from union.

SBW faces a test of character when the Roosters play his old club the Bulldogs tonight. His controversial departure seems so long ago, and he has matured since then.

But the Bulldogs fans - who may be the most militant in the game - haven't forgotten and I don't think the build-up has been a media beat up.

Sonny Bill will face the sort of reception that few players do in their careers. I wouldn't be surprised if there is added security at Allianz Stadium. The Bulldogs fans don't pull their punches. I recall former Canterbury players Rod Silva and John Timu telling me of an occasion where they were nervous for their own safety, because of their own fans, on the way to a game.

That aside, SBW has been superb. I've been most impressed with his workrate, ability to play on both sides of the field, his timing, defence and knowing what to do at the right moment. When it's needed, he provides the hit ups, and he also senses the right times to be more creative.

The big talking point around the Kiwis is the injury to Benji Marshall, which has put him out of Friday's test in Canberra.

Manly's Kieran Foran is an outstanding half, one of the best in the game, who is an automatic selection anyway. This leaves Shaun Johnson and Thomas Leuluai - different players - jousting for the other place. One of the factors we will have to consider there is the need to have someone who can spell Issac Luke at dummy half, which Leuluai is capable of doing.

Some selections may be decided by this weekend's games and one of the players under scrutiny is Canterbury forward Frank Pritchard, who has just returned from injury.

I'd add that New Zealand has been wise in promoting a leadership group within the Kiwis, in part to offset the advantages Australia has in basing its selection around the great Queensland spine. While selections are vital, so will the atmosphere we create within the team.

- NZ Herald

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