New Zealand coach Stephen Kearney admits he faces a welcome headache with the imminent return of suspended hooker Issac Luke.
What would a depleted Australian side give to have the “headache” now brewing for New Zealand coach Stephen Kearney.
Still buzzing from the Kiwis’ drought breaking 30-12 Four Nations upset of the Kangaroos in Brisbane on Saturday night, Kearney conceded he must break a golden rule and change a winning team due to Issac Luke’s imminent return from suspension.
By rights, Kearney should not have a care in the world after New Zealand snapped an injury-hit Australia’s 16-Test winning run – and an eight-match streak over his Kiwis.
It has them in the box seat to make the November 15 Four Nations final with their remaining matches to be held in their homeland – including the tournament decider.
But Kearney laughed that there were some sleepless nights to come before finalising his team for their next clash against Samoa at Whangarei on November 1.
Inspirational hooker Luke will be back after serving a two-match ban he copped playing for NRL club South Sydney.
Which leads to the small matter of finding a spot in his next 17 for stand-in hooker Thomas Leuluai and bench standout Lewis Brown who were outstanding from dummy-half against a depleted Kangaroos.
“You’ve just highlighted a headache I am going to have in the next couple of days,” Kearney smiled.
“Issac needs to get a run next week so it will just be a matter of how we balance the team – but it’s a positive headache to have.”
Luke still made an impact on Saturday night, surprisingly leading the pre-match haka – barefoot.
Kearney hinted at other line-up changes for their second match as he looked to give all of his 24-strong squad a run before the tournament’s business end.
But his halfback Shaun Johnson will be a hard act to follow if rested.
Johnson put together one of his most complete Test performances, combining with Kieran Foran to tear apart the understrength Kangaroos in the second half and rack up a personal tally of 14 points.
However, Kearney preferred to dip his hat to a forward pack featuring standouts Kevin Proctor, Jesse Bromwich and their sole but very impressive debutant Jason Taumalolo.
“Shaun will be the first to admit he enjoyed running off the back of a pretty impressive forward pack,” he said.
Kearney said the seed had been planted for the upset in May’s trans-Tasman Test in Sydney.
A Kiwi side without 14 regulars and with other big names overlooked led 18-12 at halftime before being over-run 30-18 by the star-studded Aussies.
In the end, New Zealand on Saturday night racked up another boilover at the same ground where they had claimed the 2008 World Cup and 2010 Four Nations titles.
But Kearney warned: “It does rank up there but I am very mindful it is one game.
“I am not doing cartwheels here.
“We got a couple of lucky breaks.”