He played a major role in guiding Manly to the NRL Premiership, now Kieran Foran is looking to take on far greater responsibility for the Kiwis.

The New Zealand halfback has pinpointed Sunday’s Test match against Australia in Newcastle as the perfect opportunity to show off his newfound maturity and help ease the pressure on captain Benji Marshall.

His comments will be music to the ears of Marshall himself, who earlier this week called for Foran to do just that as they look to defend their Four Nations crown in England and Wales later this month.

“I’ll be trying to [lead],” Foran told NRL.com. “Test match football… it’s a different kettle of fish, really. It goes up a notch but I’ll be trying to lead in amongst these boys now that I’ve got a few more games under my belt and have played finals footy.

“Hopefully I can take some of that experience into these big games.”

Although still a relative ‘baby’ at just 21, Foran said he had set himself the specific goal of leading from the front for Manly in 2011 following the call-up of rookie halfback Daly Cherry-Evans.

“At the beginning of the year I set myself a goal to step up and try to be a leader in our team,” he said. “I know I’m still young but I kind of put it on my shoulders to do that and I tried my best at times to try to inspire the boys and lead them from the front.

“I try and do that by my actions. At the end of the day I don’t try and say too much. I just try and leave it out there on the field and if I can lift the energy at some points in the game, or inspire the boys, so be it.”

Asked whether his achievement of winning the grand final two weeks ago had sunk in, Foran replied: “Yeah, it’s started to sink in slowly. It didn’t really sink in the couple of days after it but I think now reflecting on the year it has started to sink in that we won the premiership.

“It was a good year for myself I think, and for the team in general. We set a goal at the beginning of the year to be there and for all our players to stick at it and be consistent throughout the year... I think we can hold our heads high.”

Ironically, Foran heads into Sunday’s Test against Australia as one of New Zealand’s more experienced backs after coach Stephen Kearney named five debutantes for the Four Nations warm-up. They include Warriors pair Kevin Locke and Russell Packer, North Queensland winger Kalifa Faifai Loa and Brisbane’s Gerard Beale and Alex Glenn.

Despite the absence of a number of players through injury, Foran said the fact that selectors had been able to replace them with such quality was a good sign for the Kiwis.

“There has been a lot of talk that we’ve got a young team but the reason they’re here is because they’ve all had a pretty good year in the NRL,” he said. “Like I say to people – age doesn’t mean much if you keep producing on the footy field.

“With youth comes a bit of energy and excitement. I think all the players we’ve got here are pretty exciting players – and a fair few match-winners.

“The other thing I think it shows, with three New Zealand teams on Grand Final day, is that New Zealand rugby league is on the up, for sure. We’ve got a lot of depth. They’ve now got to leave a lot of good players out of these squads because they can’t fit them all in. I think it’s a real good sign, and positive for rugby league.”

Foran also predicted an ongoing battle in the coming years between he and rising Warriors star Shaun Johnson to partner Marshall in the halves for New Zealand.

Johnson was forced to pull out of the Four Nations squad through injury – a blow to fans that wanted to see him continue his dazzling form from his rookie NRL season – but Foran said he had no doubt the youngster would challenge him for the No.7 jersey in the future.

“There will be a healthy rivalry there I think between me and Shaun trying to lock in that halves position with Benji,” he said. “But I’m looking forward to it. It’s exciting times and it’s good to have depth in those key positions. You need it.

“Having said that, I’m very happy in the halves here. I think I’ve found my feet.”