Matt Encarnacion, Western Sydney Correspondent
Kangaroos captain Cameron Smith has expressed shock at New Zealand coach Stephen Kearney's decision to axe Roosters firebrand Jared Waerea-Hargreaves – and hopes the Kiwis' severely depleted squad doesn't deter a bumper crowd from showing up.
While Kearney deflected questions on Waerea-Hargreaves' omission for Friday night's Test match at Allianz Stadium, Smith labelled the 16-Test prop as one of the game's premier big men.
"I'm not too sure what the reasons are behind the selection of this team. There's six debutants or something like that," Smith said at the team's photo shoot in front of the War Memorial at Hyde Park on Monday.
"I actually didn't know Jared was only 25 – he's still got plenty of footy left in him. That was one of the shock omissions for me, given his form over the last couple of seasons.
"He's been one of the better props going around in our competition. He helped the Roosters win a premiership last year and I thought he had a pretty good campaign in the World Cup. I'm not too sure why he's not there."
Injuries to key men Kieran Foran, Frank Pritchard, Isaac Luke and Manu Vatuvei have forced most of the changes in Kearney's line-up, but the Broncos assistant still opted not to select experienced Roosters trio Shaun Kenny-Dowall, Frank-Paul Nuuausala and Waerea-Hargreaves. The rugby union-bound Sonny Bill Williams wasn't considered.
Smith suggested that Australia's 34-2 mauling of the Kiwis in last year's World Cup final might've been a factor in the mass changes, but said experience was key in mid-year Test matches where there would often be just two training sessions in the week leading up to the game.
"If I was the coach of a one-off Test match like this with a short preparation, you'd probably want the more experienced guys in there because they know what the week entails and they can deal with that shorter preparation," he said.
"I'm not too sure what's behind this selection or non-selection of players. But there's no doubt he would've been disappointed with the result in the World Cup and the way we won that match.
"Maybe that's a little bit to do with it, I'm not too sure. But all we can control is our preparation this week and our attitude towards the game and we're not too worried about the talk going around about their selection."
Smith said he expected a huge crowd for the Kangaroos' first Test in Sydney in almost five years, despite New Zealand's weakened line-up.
"I think tickets are down at the moment, but I think they've got some pretty good deals going with ticket sales and there's a bit of a campaign going for families there," he said.
"I don't think the prices are too high. You can pick up a ticket fairly cheaply. So given that there's no [NRL] rugby league on, I'd like to think that all rugby league fans can get out and support the match.
"Everyone wants to see the international game be a strong game and a healthy game, and I'd like to think they'd come out and support it. Given that we've seen crowds in Sydney over the Easter period – we had 40,000-plus at games. I'd like to think we can get a healthy crowd out there at the 20,000 mark."