As he casts his eye over the New Zealand line-up for tonight's match against Australia, Kiwis legend Stacey Jones is unequivocal.

Jones, part of some impressive line-ups during his long test career, believes the strength of this spine is unprecedented in the modern era.

The all-Warriors line-up of Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, Kieran Foran, Shaun Johnson and Issac Luke will anchor Kiwi hopes tonight in Canberra, appearing together as a test quartet for just the second time.

In terms of Kiwis history, it's four top playmakers at the peak of their powers, with their careers intersecting at the same time.


"It's got to be the best combination the Kiwis have ever had," said Jones. "I can't think of another one that compares. We've had some good ones but the Kiwis have often been unsettled in those positions. These guys could be together for another three or four years."

All four have plenty of international experience but their paths haven't always crossed at test level. Foran has been off the scene for the past two years, while Tuivasa-Sheck missed the Four Nations in 2014 (unavailable) and 2016. (injured). Johnson didn't play his first test until 2012.

Now they're at the same club, and Tuivasa-Sheck (23), Foran (26) and Johnson (26) are coming into their prime, while veteran Luke (29) is still performing.

In the past, the Kiwis spine has often been unsettled. There have been makeshift five-eighths, from Vinnie Anderson to Nigel Vagana, Sione Faumuina to Tohu Harris.

There have also been part-time fullbacks such as Peta Hiku, Krisnan Inu and Lance Hohaia (though Hohaia was consistent). This time, the Kiwis have a settled quartet who have also played five NRL matches together.

"Queensland have shown that is the winning formula," said Warriors forward Ryan Hoffman. "They have won 10 Origin series in 11 years and basically had the same spine. If you look at any team, you can build it around one, six, seven and nine and fill around that. That's where you get combinations and structure, and when you have that familiarity in a team, it builds confidence."

It has happened before. The great Kiwis team of the mid-1980s had a consistent spine of Gary Kemble, Olsen Filipaina (or Fred Ah Kuoi), Clayton Friend and Howie Tamati. Frank Endacott's successful side in the late 1990s centred on Jones and the Paul brothers (Henry and Robbie) and Matthew Ridge or Richie Barnett at fullback. For the 2008 World Cup and 2010 Four Nations winning sides, the brilliance of Benji Marshall was offset by the solidity of Lance Hohaia, Nathan Fien and Thomas Leuluai.

But none of those combinations lasted long. This one could.

"They know each other and with the understanding they have, it could lift the Kiwis to another level," said Jones. "Foz [Foran] can take control from first receiver and Shaun can create havoc wider out. Roger has been going really well and Issac is starting to hit his straps."

It's an extra luxury to have the spine drawn from one team. When they last played together - in 2015 - Foran, Tuivasa-Sheck and Luke were all based at Sydney clubs.

Two decades ago, the Kiwis also fielded an all-Warriors spine of Matthew Ridge, Gene Ngamu, Stacey Jones and Syd Eru against the Kangaroos at North Harbour. In hopefully an omen for tonight, the Kiwis prevailed 30-12.

Famous Kiwis spines


Gary Kemble, Olsen Filipaina, Clayton Friend, Howie Tamati


Richie Barnett, Robbie Paul, Stacey Jones, Henry Paul


Lance Hohaia, Benji Marshall, Nathan Fien, Thomas Leuluai


Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, Kieran Foran, Shaun Johnson, Issac Luke

History does repeat

Having New Zealand's spine drawn from one club is rare, but not unique.
1997 Kiwis spine
Matthew Ridge (Warriors)
Gene Ngamu (Warriors)
Stacey Jones (Warriors)
Syd Eru (Warriors)