Chris Rattue is a sports columnist for the New Zealand Herald.

Chris Rattue: Kiwis unlikely to pull a Leicester

Led by Jesse Bromwich, the Kiwis are unlikely to complete their own sporting miracle. Photo / Getty
Led by Jesse Bromwich, the Kiwis are unlikely to complete their own sporting miracle. Photo / Getty

This is a sporting week that will be remembered, forever, for the realisation of a sporting miracle.

But I can't see one happening in the league test at Newcastle, where a patched up Kiwi side will play an Australian combination based around veterans.

Leicester City are an off-the-chart miracle - it's impossible to come up with anything in professional team sport to match their against-all-odds triumph in football's English Premier League.

Compared to that, the Kiwis are on easy-street against the Kangaroos. The Kiwis, led by the hugely impressive Storm prop Jesse Bromwich, are in with a slight chance. Leicester, as we all know, went into the 2015/16 season with no chance. The beauty of sport should include the idea that almost anything is possible.

But it's very difficult seeing Steve Kearney's side coming up with a fourth straight league victory against the mighty foe after being ripped apart by defections.

At full strength, with Kieran Foran at pivot, they were a reasonable chance. Now they are rank outsiders, with ring-ins selected in three of the four vital spine positions.

The Warriors' prescription drug scandal has nothing to do with it either. Ben Matulino and Manu Vatuvei aren't big losses - erratic form and behaviour meant they didn't warrant selection anyway.

But playing with a make shift dummy half is a major problem. The extent of Warriors recruit Issac Luke's fall from grace is unfathomable - he was the only genuine candidate for the Kiwis job and still missed out. Lewis Brown is a tough utility and might do an okay job, and they will no doubt try a tag-team approach. But lining part-timers up against Cameron Smith's 80 minute perfection is like entering a go-kart in F1.

And the backline is a mess quite frankly. Players out of position, Shaun Johnson out of form, no history of defensive combinations ... Johnathan Thurston will shred them.

But games aren't won in theory, and many of New Zealand's most famous league victories came when they were least expected. Rare occasions of favouritism have not been worn well. There is firepower in the forwards, and Kearney operates with a calm authority and knowledge base which encourages some confidence. There are also questions around the Aussie centres - Greg Inglis is out of best form and Josh Dugan out of position (and he looked it for the Dragons at Mt Smart Stadium last Sunday).

As Wayne Bennett's assistant at the Broncos, Kearney is in a wonderful position to observe a great coach while informing his test selections. He has come into his own as the Kiwis' boss after initially living in his sidekick Bennett's 2008 World Cup shadow, and hiccups to his career including a shocking spell with shocking Parramatta.

I was hugely disappointed in Kearney for dropping Tohu Harris for the 2013 World Cup to make way for arrogant Sonny Bill Williams, and still believe he got it wrong.

But in some ways, the 2013 failure was the making of Kearney. He got a harsh lesson in team discipline, commitment, culture and spirit, and about being blinded by reputations. Maybe that's why he was able to take the brave decision to dump Luke. Contrary to my views at the time, I'm glad Kearney is still in charge.

Kearney is a good man, who made a kind-of-understandable mistake in the awful treatment of Harris. Hopefully the Kiwis don't have one of their infamous crashes on Friday night and put a new blot on Kearney's record. Unfortunately, due to the perilous state of that backline, it can't be discounted.

***

For crying out loud - do we really need another unsubstantiated claim about the alleged poisoning of the poor All Blacks before the 1995 World Cup final.

The latest character to chuck an irrelevant noodle into this murky soup is Rory Steyn, described as a former top South African police commander who was involved with the All Blacks' security.

"I believe it was the water that was got at, because the food that was served at lunch time ... was chicken burgers and hamburgers," he said while passing through our land. Jeez, a re-hash of the menu.

But waiter, there's more.

"I don't think it was the food, I think it was the coffee and the tea and possibly even the drinking water." He mentioned an unidentified betting syndicate.

Oh my goodness. The smoking gun turns out to be "believe", "think" and "think".

This former top cop hasn't presented a whiff of evidence, that stuff which police work is supposed to be based on.

For what it's worth, I've long believed that poison was administered by an evil fairy working for the communists.

- NZ Herald

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