League: Harris back in Kiwi spotlight

By Michael Brown

Coach Kearney springs surprise with utility forward to play five-eighth in test.

Tohu Harris says he has moved on from last year's incident when he was dropped from the Kiwis' World Cup squad to make way for Sonny Bill Williams. Photo / Getty Images
Tohu Harris says he has moved on from last year's incident when he was dropped from the Kiwis' World Cup squad to make way for Sonny Bill Williams. Photo / Getty Images

Like it or not, Tohu Harris is making a habit of being at the centre of attention and the Melbourne utility is set to start Friday's Anzac test against Australia in Sydney at five-eighth.

The 22-year-old has never played in the No6 jersey - he's a second-rower by trade who has also had time at prop and in the centres - but coach Stephen Kearney doesn't see any alternative.

Kieran Foran, Thomas Leuluai and Josh Hoffman are all unavailable through injury and Kearney is loathe to use Isaac John, who is likely to be the 18th man. John has seen little first-grade action with Penrith this season and there's a feeling the Kiwis need a big and able defender against a powerful Australian side.

Harris would line up on one edge on defence and be used as another ball-player through the middle on attack leaving halfback Shaun Johnson to lead the attack on both sides. In effect, Harris would play as another back-rower who defends wider.

It is another surprising selection from Kearney, who has endured considerable criticism for leaving out the likes of Jared Waerea-Hargreaves and Shaun Kenny-Dowall as well as not considering Sonny Bill Williams.

But it's not the first time the Kiwis have gone into a test with a makeshift halves combination and in 2003 centre Nigel Vagana and second-rower Sione Faumuina helped New Zealand to a 30-16 win over Australia at North Harbour Stadium.

The Kiwis go into Friday's match as overwhelming underdogs and there seems little chance of them winning their first Anzac test since 1998. Australia coach Tim Sheens has stuck largely with the players who won last year's World Cup final 34-2, but the Kiwis are almost unrecognisable with only five left from the final.

In the other position up for grabs, Warriors utility Ben Henry will start at hooker, with Siliva Havili providing cover off the bench.

"There's belief there but we know it's going to be a tough ask to do that because [Australia] are such a great team," Harris said. "All we are worried about is us turning up as a team and putting in our best performances to hopefully give us a chance of being there at the end of the game."

Harris has already been in the spotlight in his short international career, after last year being jettisoned out of the Kiwis World Cup squad for Williams, who changed his mind about playing in the tournament.

It's not something he likes talking about and rattles off a standard phrase whenever he's quizzed about the unfortunate episode. He's "moved on", the Kiwis have "moved on", everyone has "moved on".

It's an understandable approach but, like it or not, Harris will forever be indelibly linked with Williams and his World Cup u-turn.

He still hasn't heard from Williams ("I'm not too fussed," he said) and won't this week with the Roosters second-rower overlooked for Friday's Anzac test and out of the country on a belated honeymoon.

"I don't really look back on [what happened last year]," Harris said. "When it happened, it was disappointing but I tried to move on straight away because there was absolutely nothing I could do about it."

In contrast, he will have plenty on his plate on Friday night.

- NZ Herald

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