Aussie Steve Price in an All Blacks jersey. That's what it looked like when the New Zealand Rugby League yesterday launched the All Golds tour to commemorate the first overseas trip by a Kiwi representative team.
Price plays for the Kangaroos against the Kiwis in Wellington next Sunday then flies out for England to replicate the role of Dally Messenger, the New South Wales halfback picked up by the New Zealand side after he impressed them in games in Sydney.
The All Golds coach, Brisbane mentor and former Kangaroos coach Wayne Bennett, arrives in Wellington next Wednesday and is due to attend a wreath laying at the grave of Albert Baskiville, who organised the 1907-08 tour, next Thursday, as are Kiwis players and Baskiville's relatives.
The game's most-capped player, Kiwis legend Ruben Wiki, was named as All Golds captain and said the honour of marking the centenary of league was up there with his test representation. He was also looking forward to reuniting with Kiwis teammates Stacey Jones and Nigel Vagana. "And to have Steve pull on the black jersey is one of the highlights."
Price said Wiki had advised him to watch the haka next Sunday in Wellington and learn, though he'd be happy to give extra lessons before the game at Warrington on October 21.
Then he clammed up, most unusual. "I better not say too much before the game [on Sunday]."
Those four are the only players named so far, the rest to be announced next week, with Kiwis train-on squad members who are not part of the squad of 19 preparing for the Kangaroos test, plus English-based test contenders, to make up the rest of the 17. While it is likely to be a blooding for young talent like Rangi Chase and Isaac Luke, it will be a test work-out for the Northern Union side which is expected to be full of Great Britain contenders under new coach Tony Smith.
The all-black commemorative jersey features a Kiwi and the words 'All Golds' on the right breast and the Kiwis silver fern and the words 'New Zealand Rugby League' on the left. Nine of the original All Golds were ex-All Blacks and their playing jersey was very similar to that of the rugby team. It was decided against replicating the original jersey because the 1907 model was heavy cotton, long sleeved and with a lace-up V-front, not suitable for the modern game. Exact replicas will be marketed, though.
Yesterday's launch had another touch of history, hosted by the Ponsonby Rugby League Club which celebrates its 100-year jubilee from October 10-12. David Bailey is seeking memorabilia and invites former players and supporters to contact him at www.ponsonbyponies.com
The Rugby League International Federation executive met in Sydney yesterday was expected to clear the selection of Fuifui Moimoi and Taniela Tuiaki for the Kiwis after they played World Cup qualifiers for Tonga last year.
The NRL has done away with its pool system for the 2008 draw and asked clubs to list preferred home ground opponents one-to-15 in a bid to maximise attendances by promoting home derbies and other marquee matches. Clubs can attempt to manipulate their way around travel by requesting to host the likes of the Cowboys but the league says any inequities in 2008 will be evened up in 2009.
The Golden Originals
The All Golds were named by an Australian newspaper because nine of them were former All Blacks now playing for money. The team of 28 were led by Albert Baskiville, of Wellington, and gained support after the NZ Rugby Union refused players' requests for higher expenses payments after a successful tour of England in 1905-06 netted £12,000 profit.
To pay for their 1907-08 trip the New Zealanders played three games against New South Wales at rugby, in the process picking up the NSW halfback Dally Messenger, who was to give his name to the current NRL awards.
The All Golds also played Ceylon at rugby before embarking on an arduous 37-game tour of England. On their return to Australia they played a further eight games there, including the first test. Tragically, Baskiville caught influenza and died in Brisbane in May 1908 just before the return home.