Next week’s NRL All Stars match doubles as a timely preview for New Zealand’s World Cup campaign, with exciting Kiwi halves Kieran Foran and Shaun Johnson to play together for the first time.
The duo, both making their All Stars debuts, have never played alongside each other for New Zealand.
But they’ll get to team up in next Saturday’s Suncorp Stadium clash against the Indigenous All Stars, after Manly five-eighth Foran was called into the NRL side on Sunday to replace his Sea Eagles teammate Anthony Watmough.
Watmough was forced to withdraw on Sunday with Manly medical staff not confident he’d fully recovered from the knee surgery he underwent in December.
Warriors playmaker Johnson received the call-up from coach Wayne Bennett on Thursday to replace injured Melbourne halfback Cooper Cronk.
With the World Cup to be played in England and Wales in October, Foran will get to test himself against Australian five-eighth Johnathan Thurston, who’ll captain the Indigenous All Stars.
Getting to also play alongside New Zealand captain Benji Marshall on Saturday, Foran feels the Kiwi trio can kick start their country’s World Cup preparation this week.
“It’s amazing that Shaun and I have never played together before and I can’t wait to get to play with him, he’s a pretty exciting player,” Foran told AAP on Sunday.
“This really will be a stepping stone for that big picture at the end of the year – the World Cup goal.
“It’s going to really help us that the three of us are here together now.
“We can start to make sure from now that we all gel together out there on the paddock.”
Meanwhile Cronulla skipper Paul Gallen, who is recovering from a staph infection, is determined to feature in the pre-season clash but says he’ll know for sure midweek if he’ll be a certainty.
“It’s just a matter of getting over the infection and I’m almost there,” he said.
“I’m still on antibiotics, which have knocked me about a bit, and realistically I won’t be anywhere the near the fitness that I need to be.
“I’ll know for sure by Wednesday or Thursday but I don’t see there being too big a doubt in me playing at the moment.
“I won’t be 100 per cent fit but I will be good enough to play.”
Gallen says he’s relishing the chance to team up with some of the game’s exciting young stars in debutants Johnson and Foran.
“There really aren’t too many more exciting players in the NRL than those two,” he said.
“Getting to play with them is something I wouldn’t have gotten the chance to ever do in my career at Origin or club level so it will be great experience for me.”