Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

Wynne Gray: Thurston must be targeted by Kiwis

Australia playmaker Jonathan Thurston at the Kangaroos team photo on Monday. Photo / Getty Images
Australia playmaker Jonathan Thurston at the Kangaroos team photo on Monday. Photo / Getty Images

When referee Gerard Sutton signals time on at Newcastle it will begin time out for the Kiwis.

That theme is percolating through discussions around the trans-Tasman league test tomorrow and reflected in the chances posted for the clash.

The Kiwis are nowhere near the outsider odds of Leicester but could be termed "unfancied."

Workaholic Simon Mannering and Roger Tuivasa-Sheck are injured, Kieran Foran is on stress leave, senior players have been omitted because of social indiscretions and lack of form, original picks Pita Hiku, Alex Glenn and Danny Levi had to be replaced and Shaun Kenny-Dowall remains an uncertain starter.

Meanwhile new Kangaroo coach Mel Meninga only lost Michael Jennings from his original selection for this Anzac test which comes 10 days after that special commemorative day.

All signs point to a Kangaroo victory at Hunter Stadium in Newcastle although similar messages have accompanied the last three tests between the trans-Tasman rivals.

The Kiwis won all three. Those results have sent painful lingering messages through the Kangaroos.

"They have a great forward pack, that's their strength and it probably always has been," Aussie prop Paul Gallen said.

"In the last three tests, we've seen they have taken us through the middle and made plenty of yards and probably restricted the yards that we have made so it's a big challenge for me, Matt Scott and Corey Parker in the middle field to get us on a roll."

It feels like the All Blacks, Breakers and rowers regularly rattle the Aussies ribs, the Kiwis and NZ cricket sometimes while other codes struggle.

How do the Kiwis go about plotting victory tomorrow? They have all the forward power to match the Kangaroo forwards and need to attack their strength.

Somehow they must isolate Johnathan Thurston to take the sting out of his legs and plant some uncertainty in his match authority.

Find him on the park, run the ball at him and force him into repeat tackles.

When he has possession, use a compressed defensive line to chop Thurston's time and options.

Ruffle him, muscle him, clock him late, put him on edge and attack referee Sutton's sole control.

It is a hell of a mission because Thurston is one of those special players who has the resilience to cope with most things and has shown that consistently in later years with North Queensland and the Kangaroos.

The Kiwis are up against it but who expected they would beat the Kangaroos 30-12, 22-18 and 26-12 in their last three clashes?

- NZ Herald

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