Richie Barnett on league
Opinion and analysis from former Kiwis captain Richie Barnett

Richie Barnett: Origin gives Aussies big advantage over Kiwis

Trent Merrin of the Blues on his way to score a try during game three of the ARL State of Origin. Photo / Getty Images
Trent Merrin of the Blues on his way to score a try during game three of the ARL State of Origin. Photo / Getty Images

Watching State of Origin on Wednesday night confirmed to me how hard Australia will be to beat at this year's World Cup, but also how big an advantage it is for their top players to be involved in such a tough series.

Australia automatically have a head start over the Kiwis because they get three tough games together and they lift to another level. It's something the NZRL needs to look at in the future, whether a game can be arranged at the same time, because we are already on the back foot and it's why the game against the Cook Islands a week before the tournament starts will be a crucial part of our preparations.

What Origin also highlighted for me is that desperation and character will win you the World Cup, not skill and finesse. By winning eight series in a row, Queensland have shown an amazing ability to lift and find something special when they need to. It helps that they have two or three players who will probably be made Immortals at the end of their careers and they know how to win games.

In saying that, all teams are vulnerable and Australia are beatable. Some of their players might also find it difficult to sustain a high level of performance for so long after Origin, the NRL playoffs and then the World Cup.

I'm really excited about the Kiwis' World Cup chances and, as a selector, this will be the most difficult side I have had to pick.

What I want to see 100 days out is players desperate to be there, players who make it impossible for us to leave them out of the 24-man squad.

I don't see any weak areas and just look at the options we have in the outside backs: Manu Vatuvei, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, Sam Perrett, Jason Nightingale, Josh Hoffman, Kevin Locke, Glen Fisiiahi ...

We also have good stocks in the back row - as much as we would love to have Sonny Bill Williams there, we could cover his absence - up front and in the centres.

My one big hope is that Rabbitohs hooker Issac Luke stays fit. He is crucial and probably fits the category of New Zealand's most important player, because he has an x-factor, an ability to turn a game.

He's also a player the Australians fear.

I really hope Benji Marshall is available because he exudes class on and off the field.

He is a good leader with World Cup-winning experience, is a big-game player and, at his best, there's no one better at creating opportunities.

I'm really disappointed the NRL hasn't done more to try to keep Benji in league, whether that's creating an ambassadorial role, helping him find another club or topping up his salary in the same way other codes do for marquee players.

He puts bums on seats and kids adore him.

The Kiwis still have some good options in the halves in Kieran Foran, Shaun Johnson and Thomas Leuluai but you would still love to see Benji in the UK and France at the end of the year.

Australia are not going to be the only challenge at the World Cup.

England will probably have the strongest side for some time and some of the Island teams will be difficult and then there are other factors like UK conditions, different refereeing interpretations and crowd support.

- NZ Herald

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