League: Kiwis confident for test

By Michael Brown

Despite missing several stars coaching staff upbeat team can match Australia.

Issac Luke will be a key player for the Kiwis on Friday night. Photo / Getty Images
Issac Luke will be a key player for the Kiwis on Friday night. Photo / Getty Images

For a side who haven't won the Anzac test since 1998 and are missing three of their biggest names, the Kiwis are still confident of upsetting a powerful Australia side in Canberra on Friday night.

Any team needs to go into a test confident but the Kiwis go into this one shorn of considerable firepower in Sonny Bill Williams, Benji Marshall (both injured) and Jeremy Smith (suspended) and bookmakers on both sides of the Tasman predict a regulation Australia win. They have installed them as $1.14 favourites and given them a 16.5-point head start.

The Kiwis drafted in Melbourne's Tohu Harris as a replacement for Smith, who faces four to six weeks on the sidelines after his tackle on Penrith's Matt Robinson. Harris has been named as 18th man.

Coach Stephen Kearney has shuffled his pack a little, with captain Simon Mannering slotting in at lock. It's the position he filled in last October's test against Australia and he feels the side will benefit from having their captain playing up the middle of the park, especially with Marshall missing and Shaun Johnson playing only his second test.

Jason Nightingale and Sam Perrett won the battle for the wings, meaning Roger Tuivasa-Sheck missed out.

Assistant coach Tony Iro said they would have preferred to be able to call on Williams, Marshall and Smith but didn't think the side was terribly weakened.

"We don't feel that in the team," Iro said. "They are big names but the guys are really confident in the players around them and the fact that each one can do the job. I think it's always a little bit different inside a team environment but they are very comfortable.

"I suppose in every test you're missing some names you would expect to be there. Obviously the names missing this time are rather big but you look at our side, it's one that has been picked on form.

"We just have to prepare as well as we can and improve on what we did in our last game. If we do that, we will go close to winning."

The past three Anzac tests have been won by Australia by between four and 10 points and last year's Townsville test saw an eight-point margin. It shows the Kiwis have been close but they were also thumped 42-6 in October 2011.

New Zealand's last victory over the Kangaroos was the 2010 Four Nations final, 16-12 in Brisbane.

Australia have a powerful lineup but are wary of New Zealand's four-prop rotation and the speed of hooker Issac Luke out of dummy half. It has prompted Australia coach Tim Sheens to plump for two recognised props in Matt Scott and James Tamou, with Sam Thaiday and Paul Gallen likely to play there as well.

Luke is a key figure and could be in line to play 80 minutes. Elijah Taylor, who started a handful of games at hooker for the Warriors this season, will slot in there if Luke needs a breather and also provides back-row backup.

Kiwis v Australia
Canberra Stadium, 10.10pm Friday

Kiwis
Josh Hoffman
Sam Perrett
S. Kenny-Dowall
Dean Whare
Jason Nightingale
Kieran Foran
Shaun Johnson
Jesse Bromwich
Issac Luke
J. W-Hargreaves
Frank Pritchard
Kevin Proctor
S. Mannering (c)

Australia
Billy Slater
Darius Boyd
Greg Inglis
Justin Hodges
Brett Morris
J. Thurston
Cooper Cronk
Matt Scott
Cameron Smith (c)
James Tamou
Greg Bird
Sam Thaiday
Paul Gallen

Reserves
Kiwis: Elijah Taylor, Sam McKendry, Ben Matulino, Alex Glenn. 18th man: Tohu Harris.

Australia: Kurt Gidley, Luke Lewis, Nate Myles, Anthony Watmough. 18th man: Josh Morris.

- APNZ

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