Michael Burgess is a sports writer for the Herald on Sunday.

Michael Burgess: 'Line in sand' by Warriors a step too far

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The decision to bar Manu Vatuvei from being available for the Kiwis is a big call that will be debated endlessly today. Photo / Getty Images
The decision to bar Manu Vatuvei from being available for the Kiwis is a big call that will be debated endlessly today. Photo / Getty Images

The Warriors' "line in the sand" has turned into a deep sea trench.

The decision to bar Manu Vatuvei, Ben Matulino and Bodene Thompson from being available for the Kiwis is a big call that will be debated endlessly today.

It feels like a step too far and it is certainly unprecedented.

Clubs have been withholding players from international duty for decades. It happened just last year, with the Cowboys deciding that it was in Jason Taumalolo's best interests not to go on the Kiwis' tour of England, though the official line was he had a minor injury. The Roosters pulled the same stunt before the 2014 Four Nations, denying the Kiwis the services of Roger Tuivasa-Sheck so he could have a full off season with the club.

This, though, is different. The Warriors have extended the punishment of the "gang of six" into the international arena, which by extension also punishes Kiwis fans and the "league nation" in this country.

It's also the worst possible timing. The Kiwis are on the verge of making history, aiming for what would be a quite incredible fourth successive victory against the Kangaroos. They have already been shorn of a number of key players, and the absence of Vatuvei and Matulino adds to the experience vacuum.

Kiwis coach Stephen Kearney may have elected not to pick the duo anyway, but in the usual scenario it would have been his decision to make alone, rather than having the option taken away from him.

Vatuvei was man of the match in the last two triumphs over the Kangaroos - with a particularly outstanding display in the historic Anzac test victory in Brisbane last year - and has been a rock for his country for more than a decade. And Matulino has been a Kiwis fixture for most of his career although Jesse Bromwich has overtaken him as the team's No1 prop.

And let's not forget Tonga (Konrad Hurrell and Albert Vete) and Samoa (Sam Lisone), who have also missed out on some of their premier players, for the Pacific test matches next Saturday. All three would have been certainties for the Island nations looking to build on the progress they have made over the past few years.

- NZ Herald

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Michael Burgess is a sports writer for the Herald on Sunday.

Michael Burgess is the football and rugby league writer for the Herald on Sunday. He was named the 2013 New Zealand football writer of the year and was a finalist in the Sports Reporter of the year at the 2014 Canon Media Awards.

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