Michael Burgess is the football and rugby league writer for the Herald on Sunday.

NRL: Tohu Harris still "in awe" of Cameron Smith and Cooper Cronk

Tohu Harris (L) with Kiwis captain Jesse Bromwich and Storm teammate Cameron Smith. Photo / Getty Images
Tohu Harris (L) with Kiwis captain Jesse Bromwich and Storm teammate Cameron Smith. Photo / Getty Images

Tohu Harris admits he is still slightly "in awe" of Kangaroo's Cameron Smith and Cooper Cronk, but won't let that admiration affect his performance for the Kiwis on Saturday night.

Smith and Cronk are two of the legends of the sport - both tipped as possible future immortals - and have played a big role in Harris' development since he went to the Storm as a teenager in 2010.

The Kiwis back rower has played more than 100 matches alongside the duo, and reached the grand final with them this season.

But on Saturday night they will be the enemy, the men the Kiwis will have to stop if they have any chance of another famous victory over Australia.

"I've played against them a few times but I still find it a bit odd," said Harris. "I am still a little bit in awe of them, if that makes sense. They are great players and I feel lucky and privileged to play alongside them. When you see them across the other side of the field in that green and gold jersey it is a bit surreal...but you can't focus too much on who is wearing it.

You can't dwell on that, otherwise they will run circles around you."

In the space of three years Harris has become a key member of the Kiwis. He played every minute of every game on last year's tour of England, and will be expected to pick up some extra defensive workload on Saturday in the absence of Simon Mannering, who will join the squad for the Four Nations as he continues to recover from minor knee surgery.

The 24-year-old Harris is mature beyond his years, and already established as part of the emerging leadership group at the Storm.

Harris was part of a depleted Kiwis team that lost 16-0 in May, in a game where the visitors struggled to make any attacking inroads. The score line could have been considerably higher, but for a committed New Zealand defensive effort, but Harris says the Kiwis haven't lost their belief.

"I wouldn't say it did any [psychological] damage," said Harris of the defeat in Newcastle.

"We learnt a lot from that game and hopefully we can correct the things we did wrong on Saturday night. Australia has a very strong team, and we need to make sure we are playing with energy, to our strengths and [that] we defend well. They have a lot of great attacking players - some of the best we have ever seen - we need to [be] up for that challenge."

Saturday's game is an unusual scenario, the first stand-alone end of year trans-tasman test since 2012. The ultimate goal remains the Four Nations tournament in England, but Harris says they are focussing one game at a time.

"We want to be playing our best and we want a good result," said Harris. "It's a test match against Australia and you don't get a bigger game than that. We don't see it a warm up game, we see it as a test match in itself. If you take this game lightly Australia will make you pay."

- NZ Herald

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