The Kiwis will mark an important milestone in the first test against England on Monday, one that couldn't have been anticipated just a few months ago.

The match in Hull will be the first time the Kiwis have taken the field without either Shaun Johnson or Kieran Foran since 2010.

Over the last three years, the duo have become arguably the most important halves combination in the history of New Zealand league.

They have won three matches against Australia - no other halves duo in the modern era have enjoyed more victories against the Kangaroos - and have also played 12 test matches together, a modern-day record for a Kiwis combination.


And their influence during the golden run of the last 12 months has been staggering. The Kiwis are unbeaten since the start of the 2014 Four Nations, a sequence of five wins over Australia (three times), Samoa and England.

During that time, the Kiwis have scored 19 tries, an average of almost four per match. And the halves' contribution to their offensive success has been profound.

Of those 19 tries, Johnson and Foran have scored four of them. It's hard to forget Johnson's spectacular individual tries in all three defeats of the Kangaroos, and Foran got across against Samoa in Whangarei.

There have also been another six try assists - from Foran's perfect bomb for Dean Whare in Brisbane last year, to Johnson's weaving run and long pass for Manu Vatuvei in the Four Nations final - and at least one of the duo was heavily involved, throwing the penultimate pass in the try-scoring movement, on another seven occasions.

All is all, they have scored, assisted or been directly involved in 17 of the Kiwis' last 19 test tries.

Those statistics underline the scale of the task on Monday.

During the buildup to this match, the Kiwis have tried to shield Tui Lolohea and Peta Hiku from the inevitable focus. Assistant coach David Kidwell insisted that the Kiwis would "win or lose as a team... as a 17", and there was "no extra pressure" on the two new halves. Hooker and co-captain Issac Luke and fullback Roger Tuivasa-Sheck have also both talked about taking more responsibility.

But it's still deep-end stuff for Lolohea and Hiku. In his first few games at this level, Foran had Marshall as the senior playmaker and Johnson learned with Foran beside him. Numbers six and seven will have no such luxury tomorrow, although they are playing behind arguably the best Kiwis pack of the modern era.


"[Yes], It's not the easiest, really," admitted Lolohea. "[Peta] is new in the position, too, and we are trying to come together and build a combination but we know where we want to go."

"The Leeds game gave us [some] experience in the halves together," said Hiku. "We don't want to take on too much [and] Issac Luke is there in the middle controlling the team and that takes a lot of pressure off us. Our forward pack is real good and that takes a lot of pressure off us halves."

Kiwi halves combinations (modern era)
Shaun Johnson & Kieran Foran - 12 tests (2013-2015)
Benji Marshall & Nathan Fien 11 (2008-2010)
Stacey Jones & Nigel Vagana 9 (2005-2006)
Stacey Jones & Robbie Paul 9 (1998-2000)
Gary Freeman & Gene Ngamu 9 (1993-1995)

Kiwis unbeaten streak (since Oct 2014)
Kiwis 30 Australia 12
Kiwis 14 Samoa 12
Kiwis 16 England 14
Kiwis 22 Australia 18
Kiwis 26 Australia 12

*Autex - Proud sponsors of New Zealand rugby league since 1981.