Kiwis target battle up front
For all the anticipation over the magic that halves Benji Marshall and Shaun Johnson might conjure up, the Kiwis know they have to do the business up front in the Anzac rugby league Test on Friday night.
New Zealand assistant coach Tony Iro says it’s what happens in the skirmishes with the Kangaroos forwards that will largely determine who leaves Auckland’s Eden Park with the spoils.
“In any league game these days, the side that wins the arm wrestle gets the opportunity to play football and this isn’t going to be any different,” he said.
“Everyone can talk about open football, but we have to win up front first.
“I think we’ve got plenty of guys in form in the pack. We just have make sure they bring their club form to the international game.”
Iro believes the 17 the Kiwis selectors have chosen is “probably the best side we could have picked”, with only injured Manly pair Kieran Foran and Steve Matai missing.
There are three new caps in Johnson, fullback Josh Hoffman and interchange forward Jesse Bromwich.
But Iro said there was also plenty of experience running through the squad, “so we’ve got no excuses”.
Centre Simon Mannering is the most capped with 28 Test appearances, while Marshall, hooker Isaac Luke, back-up dummy-half Nathan Fien and back-rowers Frank Pritchard, Adam Blair and Jeremy Smith all have more than 20.
The Kiwis will break a long drought if they do manage to beat the Kangaroos.
They haven’t prevailed in a mid-year trans-Tasman Test since 1998, when Iro was a second-rower in the side that won 22-16 across town at North Harbour Stadium.
It’s an experience that has stuck in the memory.
“You don’t forget beating Australia,” he said.
“It was a good day. I remember 17 players having a real dig.
“We had beaten the Australian team the previous year under Super League colours and there was criticism that we had beaten only half the Australian team in `97, so there was enough incentive to do well in `98.”
That was the last time the Anzac Test was held in New Zealand and Iro said home advantage would be a positive.
However, he was also also mindful that neither the Kiwis nor the Warriors had won at the spiritual home of New Zealand rugby.
“To be fair, we haven’t had much luck at Eden Park, so that’s another monkey we have to get off our back.”© AAP 2013
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