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

League: Kiwis debut no joke for Te Maire Martin

Penrith playmaker Te Maire Martin will debut for the Kiwis against Scotland on Saturday. Photo / Photosport.
Penrith playmaker Te Maire Martin will debut for the Kiwis against Scotland on Saturday. Photo / Photosport.

In the space of 30 seconds yesterday, Kiwis utility Te Maire Martin went from despair to destiny.

Martin was named to make his test debut against Scotland on Saturday (NZT), but not before a practical joke from coach David Kidwell.

The 21-year-old was on his way to breakfast at the team hotel when he was pulled aside by Kidwell.

"He had a little joke about it at the start," said Martin. "He said `sorry Te, I can't play you this week'. I dropped my head and was a bit gutted. Then he paused, started laughing and said 'No, I'm chucking you in'. My stomach dropped for a while but then I started laughing afterwards."

The Penrith utility admitted he was hoping to get the nod for the final Four Nations pool match, after watching the previous three tests from the grandstand.

"I thought I might have got a run this week but when he told me my heart dropped...though I didn't mind too much," said Martin.

"I'm enjoying the ride, being around the big boys and learning as much as I can. It's been surreal to be in the team and train alongside people that I look up to. I hope it goes alright on [Saturday]."

Martin, who made his NRL debut in round three before injuring his shoulder six games later, is likely to be introduced on Saturday when Issac Luke is spelled. Leuluai will take over the hooking role while Martin will pair up with Shaun Johnson in the halves.

Martin is one of four rookies named in the team, with Warriors utility David Fusitua to start on the wing, and Raiders lock Joseph Tapine and Penrith second rower James Fisher-Harris joining Martin on the interchange bench. The other change sees Dallin Watene-Zelezniak at fullback, in place of Jordan Kahu.

Kidwell's selection is a bit risky, but probably a gamble worth taking. It will give him a chance to see the young players in action, which otherwise may not have occurred until at least the Anzac test next year.

It's still a strong team, and the presence of Watene-Zelezniak and Fusitua does nothing to diminish the attacking strike of the side. And the youthful energy and enthusiasm of the introduced quintet will lift the Kiwis, after two physical encounters with England and Australia in the space of eight days.

The only concern will be combinations, especially on defence, with a new back three and different players on each edge. But there is enough experience around the young players, who have all impressed at various times in the NRL this season.

But they'll need to perform, for a Kiwis team that have to win, and win well. They'll face tough conditions - there was snow on the hills on the journey into Cumbria today - and a parochial crowd cheering on the Bravehearts.

Scotland were extremely impressive against England, right in the match at halftime (12-8) before a sin binning and a lopsided penalty count in the second half helped the Lions pull away.

"I got to watch them against England and they are a good side," said Martin. "They have some firepower in their team and we are not taking them lightly; we are preparing like this is any other game."

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