Man successfully re-invented, or man down. Therein lies the rub in assessing the current version of Kieran Read.

Three years ago Read provided all the answers. He had become - in this opinion - the best No. 8 in New Zealand history. He was a shoo-in as the world player of the year. He was busy re-writing the loose forward job description, running wide and unleashing offloads. He was the heir absolutely to captain Richie McCaw.

None of these things apply for sure anymore, including certainty that he will captain New Zealand at the 2019 World Cup. There are questions after questions around Read as 2016 draws to a close. Maybe captaincy is a burden, concussions a lingering problem.

Dublin on Sunday isn't so much a test of his captaincy, but his playing impact. He's gone from being the star turn ahead of the pack to a player leading from the middle. He's operating like a blindside flanker, while Liam Squire shows glimpses of what a test No. 8 should be doing on attack.

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The sad thing about Read from the romantic viewpoint is that the magic has gone, so is this by deterioration or design? When the All Blacks needed to fire second half shots in Chicago, it was Dane Coles and TJ Perenara, then Squire and Scott Barrett, making his debut, who inspired by creating tries. This is where Read would have struck a while ago.

It's a strange conundrum, considering Read has captained the All Blacks on an adventure this year, his first in charge, of brilliant attacking bursts often during scorching finishes. It's not been all bad from the Crusaders' veteran either. But it's not been great either, and that's was his calling card in the glory days.

Read used to pop up everywhere. He still does, on advertisements, his face plonked around furniture like a stickers on a school bag. He's developing a wider commercial profile, but operating in narrower lines on the field. He's an ultra-safe lineout option - apart from Chicago where Dane Coles lobbed the ball over his reach - and worker in the trenches.

Read has had an okay year, but it's what he's not doing which is concerning and confusing especially compared to the impact being made by rising Pumas powerhouse Facundo Isa. Judging Read has become an exercise for the aficionados and number crunchers, whereas he used to paint glorious pictures you couldn't miss.

Can the Read we loved to watch re-emerge? Or is he stuck in a different rut. He looks like a bloke clinging on until the end of the year, and who can blame any modern rugby professional for breaking a sweat just looking at the schedules. Read turns 34 during the next World Cup in Japan, and is looking so battle weary he might not make it that far. Maybe Sunday can change that impression.




From the 'Would Love To Be Wrong' department...

The Kiwis will get smashed by a good 15 points in the Four Nations league final. There is little in the lead-up to suggest there is much hope against Australia, who have got an excellent mix of experienced stars and enthusiastic newcomers.

Coach Mal Meninga has restored lustre to the Australian jersey, and captain Cameron Smith said all the right things about what national representation should mean at the tournament in England. In other words, Australia's attitude is bang on, and when it is they are often unbeatable.

New Kiwis coach David Kidwell looks out of his depth, despite a slightly lucky win over a dominant yet inept England in their opening game. Shaun Johnson has his strengths, but he's ordinary at directing a team and without the injured Thomas Leuluai, his foil is likely to be Tohu Harris. The Kiwis have seen Harris as a back-up back for a while, but goodness knows why.

Greg Inglis alone presents an almost insurmountable challenge for these Kiwis in the final at Anfield. Inglis has been around so long that you tend to take his damaging power for granted. He was far too good for England on Monday.