Whatever the critics might be saying, tomorrow night’s Four Nations clash with New Zealand will be anything but a non-event for Chris Lawrence, with the Kangaroos centre determined to earn himself a spot in the squad for next week’s final at Suncorp Stadium.
Lawrence, 22, is one of four Australian players – alongside Todd Carney, Matthew Scott and Dean Young – making their Test debut at Eden Park tomorrow, with both sides already guaranteed their place in the November 13 final.
And after promising changes following last week’s dour win over England, coach Tim Sheens has told his players that a strong performance against the Kiwis tomorrow would go a long way towards seeing them picked again for the decider.
“Everyone in the squad knows that’s the case,” Lawrence told NRL.com. “Now that everyone in the squad will get a game it gives them the opportunity to show what they can do and really put their hand up for the final next week.
“It is an opportunity for the guys like myself who didn’t get a run the first few weeks to show that we can do the job and hopefully I can book a spot for the final.”
Asked if he was looking at tomorrow night’s clash as a dead rubber, Lawrence said: “I definitely won’t… this will be my first ever Test and I certainly don’t want to waste it.
“I can assure you that every other player and all the Kiwi boys won’t want to either.
“Once you pull on that jersey, whether it’s supposed to be a dead rubber or not, you don’t want to lose.”
Lawrence’s selection this week is reward for a huge year in which he emerged as one of the NRL’s premier centres as Wests Tigers surged into the finals for the first time since 2005.
And although devastated by the Tigers’ narrow loss to St George Illawarra in the grand final qualifier, he said that his imminent Test debut has already eased the pain of that near miss.
“It’s been a good year overall – I’m pretty happy,” he said. “It’s funny because I didn’t have the best pre-season – I had a lot of niggling injuries so it took me a good six to eight weeks of the competition before I started playing good footy.
“I started the year a bit slow and I didn’t get out of rehab until a couple of weeks before the first game.
“But those first few weeks of the comp I worked really hard on different specifics of the game – different aspects of attack and defence to really try and improve my game.
“So I feel that the middle part of the year I played some really good footy and it went from there.
“I still had a couple of injuries towards the end of the year like I did the year before but making the Kangaroos squad helped ease the pain of bowing out of the finals.”
Lawrence said that being named to face the Kiwis this week was an added bonus after assuming he was just there to make up the numbers when he missed selection for the opening game against Papua New Guinea.
“I wasn’t too sure [if he would get his chance],” he said. “I just wanted to train as hard as I could on the training paddock and learn as much as I could from guys like Billy Slater and Darren Lockyer, which I think has been a great help to my game.
“Unfortunately I didn’t get picked for the first two games but I’ve got my chance in this one.
“It’s everyone’s dream to represent their country and this Saturday I’ll get to live it.”
Tomorrow night’s Test will be the first time Lawrence has played against his Wests Tigers team-mate Benji Marshall and also pits him in a direct one-on-one contest with Shaun Kenny-Dowall, who was named International Centre of the Year earlier this week.
“I’m going up against the best in the world this year, so it will be tough – but that’s why we play football, to face challenges and win them,” Lawrence said.