NRL action takes a backseat this weekend as the first of the representative matches get underway.
Here I will preview only the Australia versus New Zealand Test match, with the City versus Country match to be previewed separately.
Australia: Billy Slater, Darius Boyd, Greg Inglis, Justin Hodges, Brett Morris, Johnathan Thurston, Cooper Cronk, Matt Scott, Cameron Smith (c), James Tamou, Greg Bird, Sam Thaiday, Paul Gallen. Interchange: Kurt Gidley, Nate Myles, Luke Lewis, Anthony Watmough. 18th man: Josh Morris
New Zealand squad: Jesse Bromwich, Kieran Foran, Alex Glenn, Josh Hoffman, Shaun Johnson, Shaun Kenny-Dowall, Isaac Luke, Simon Mannering, Ben Matulino, Sam McKendry, Jason Nightingale, Sam Perrett, Frank Pritchard, Kevin Proctor, Jeremy Smith (judiciary pending), Elijah Taylor, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, Dean Whare.
Overall, there are no surprises in the Australian Test team, and most of the team that was successful in Auckland last year was retained. Again, no surprise that the team is dominated by Queenslanders with Brett Morris the only Blue in the backline.
Billy Slater and Greg Inglis had a wonderful duel in last week’s Storm versus Rabbitohs match, and it was the perfect chance to test each others’ games out before this match.
But with Slater being the more dominant fullback nowadays, Inglis will have to be content playing centre, which he did during his days at Melbourne.
Darius Boyd was selected despite his poor form at Newcastle. To many he is seen as an automatic selection given his contribution to the Test team in years past.
Brett Morris was another significant selection, given he has featured in the Dragons’ recent resurgence which has seen them win three matches on the trot.
Cameron Smith enters his second year captaining the Kangaroos and he is joined in the front row by Matt Scott and last year’s NSW Origin sensation, James Tamou.
As expected, Paul Gallen will lock the scrum behind Greg Bird and Sam Thaiday.
As far as the interchange bench goes, Kurt Gidley returns to the side for the first time since 2010, while Luke Lewis and Anthony Watmough will prove to be valuable replacements should one of the big names have to take a rest.
Bulldog Josh Morris is the 18th man.
New Zealand’s is also a strong squad, despite the omission of Manu Vatuvei due to his poor form at the Warriors.
Roosters sensation Roger Tuivasa-Sheck earns his first representative jumper of any kind, and Dean Whare also gets a call-up.
Jeremy Smith’s representation in the squad is pending his judiciary hearing following an incident in which he head-slammed Penrith’s Matt Robinson during Newcastle’s 8-6 victory last weekend. His loss would be an obvious blow to the Kiwis, given his contribution to the forward pack in recent years.
Other than that, there are no other surprises in New Zealand’s Test squad as they seek their first win in an ANZAC Test match since 1998.
Billy Slater and Jason Nightingale: Slater has made the fullback jersey his own in the last couple of years, while Nightingale has had to deputise for Gerard Beale at the Dragons following the latter’s season-ending injury. Should be an interesting match-up, this one.
Simon Mannering versus Paul Gallen: They are the heart and soul of their clubs and there is no doubt they will want to put in Herculean performances for their country in this one.
Darius Boyd versus Roger Tuivasa-Sheck: It’s experience against the rookie. Boyd has been a mainstay in the Kangaroos’ backline since 2008, while for Tuivasa-Sheck, this will be his first ANZAC Test.
Tuivasa-Sheck has been a revelation for the Roosters recently, scoring four tries in his last three matches, including a hat-trick in the Roosters’ recent 50-0 hammering of Parramatta.
I can see this match going Australia’s way given the stability they have enjoyed in recent times. This is a well-balanced Test side, however the Queenslanders outnumber New South Wales by ten players to eight (seven if you don’t include the 18th man, Josh Morris).
Tip: Australia by 14 points.