New Zealand have a great chance to wrest some international silverware their way in the Four Nations against an injury-hit Australia.
New Zealand have a great chance to put another dent in injury-hit Australia’s long dominance over international rugby league in the Four Nations tournament beginning later this month.
The Kiwis shocked the Kangaroos and ended decades of Australia’s stranglehold over the international game when they won the 2008 World Cup.
They have since largely failed to back up that breakthrough but, with up to 20 big name Australians out of the six-week tournament due to injury, the Kiwis have a golden opportunity to knock Australia off their perch.
From the Australian side that defeated New Zealand 30-18 in the Anzac Test in May, Johnathan Thurston (shoulder) Billy Slater (shoulder), Brett Morris (shoulder), Matt Scott (shoulder), Nate Myles (biceps), James Tamou (neck) and Matt Gillett (shoulder) are confirmed withdrawals.
NSW captain Paul Gallen also was not considered due to a drugs ban, while Darius Boyd (personal issues) is also unavailable.
Adding to the selectors’ dilemma, other possibles – Justin Hodges (knee), Josh Dugan (thumb), Trent Merrin (shoulder), Will Hopoate (leg), Dave Taylor (neck) and Andrew Fifita (arm) – are also unavailable.
NSW halfback Trent Hodkinson took a knee injury into Canterbury’s grand final loss to South Sydney and is likely to undergo surgery, ruling him out.
His Bulldogs teammate Josh Reynolds suffered a shoulder injury in the decider and is also likely to be unavailable, while Josh Morris carried a knee injury through the latter part of the NRL season and may require surgery.
Sydney Roosters halfback Mitchell Pearce or his Brisbane counterpart Ben Hunt are set to join Cooper Cronk in the Kangaroos halves for their Four Nations opener against the Kiwis in Brisbane on October 25.
A plucky Kiwis side, weakened by injury, fell 30-18 to Australia in both nations’ last international hitout in the Anzac Test but will carry a significant advantage in Test experience into the Suncorp Stadium opener.
A likely Kiwis side will have over 200 games of Test experience, while Australia can only muster 134, and 38 of those are captain Cameron Smith’s.
Hooker Issac Luke will add 27 caps when he returns from suspension for the Kiwis’ second match against Samoa in Whangarei on November 1.
A third of the Australian side could be Test debutants.
Sunday’s PM’s XIII clash against Papua New Guinea in Kokopo will provide a number of representative rookies the chance to press their claims for Four Nations berth, including 21-year-old Sydney Roosters prop Dylan Napa.
POSSIBLE TEAMS FOR THE FOUR NATIONS OPENER BETWEEN AUSTRALIA AND NEW ZEALAND ON OCTOBER 25 (TEST CAPS IN BRACKETS):
Australia: Greg Inglis (29), Alex Johnston (0), Michael Jennings (2), Jarryd Hayne (12), Daniel Tupou (0), Mitchell Pearce (0), Cooper Cronk (22), Aaron Woods (0), Cameron Smith (38), Brenton Lawrence (0), Boyd Cordner (3), Ryan Hoffman (5), Greg Bird (12).
Interchange: Robbie Farah (7), Chris McQueen (0), David Klemmer (0), Josh Papalii (4)
Total: 134 Tests
New Zealand: Peta Hiku (1), Jason Nightingale (19), Dean Whare (9), Shaun Kenny-Dowall (9), Manu Vatuvei (24), Kieran Foran (15), Shaun Johnson (9), Jesse Bromwich (9), Thomas Leuluai (29), Sam Moa (4), Kevin Proctor (3), Simon Mannering (35), Adam Blair (25).
Interchange: Tohu Harris (2), Lewis Brown (5), Greg Eastwood (17), Jason Taumalolo (0)
Total: 215 Tests