Inside Word: Changing of the guard
Trent Barrett says upcoming Test matches will give the Kangaroos a great opportunity to develop their next breed of superstar.
After a long year of intense rugby league our best players are about to embark on a new challenge: the Four Nations. But of course before that gets underway fans have the second leg of this year’s Bill Kelly Cup Test series to look forward to this Sunday as the Kangaroos face up to the mighty Kiwis at Ausgrid Stadium in Newcastle.
If anyone thinks this international is simply Australia's warm-up for the Four Nations in the United Kingdom, they had better think again – New Zealand are coming off an incredible few years and a truly historic month.
The Kiwis hold the World Cup and Four Nations trophies and are still basking in the limelight of having three grades feature on Grand Final day – including taking out the Toyota Cup for the second straight year.
After a 20-10 victory the last time these teams locked horns back in May, this Test match represents another golden opportunity for Australia to claw back some dominance.
Over the next few years we are going to see somewhat of a changing of the guard within the Aussie team. This Sunday’s clash will be Darren Lockyer’s last Test on Australian soil and it certainly will be a special occasion for all involved. Big prop Petero Civoniceva has only a year to go in the NRL and will be missed in the green-and-gold over the coming weeks; and the likes of Mark Gasnier, Jamie Lyon and Matt Cooper are all finished at rep level… we are going to see a lot of debutants throughout the coming series and next year. That’s an exciting prospect.
Wests Tigers duo Chris Lawrence and Keith Galloway get their chances to impress in their first tour, as does Dally M Rookie of the Year Daly Cherry-Evans. The selection of the Manly No.7 is a good choice. In terms of developing our young stars, a tour like this one will see Cherry-Evans come home an even better player. Training with the best players and watching the likes of Johnathan Thurston and Lockyer will give the 22-year-old a great insight into taking his game to the next level.
The Kiwis have a whopping 12 players unavailable for selection, which will hurt them this weekend – but it can also work for them down the track. Getting to blood more Test players and have them gain experience in Test footy will again only make them better and give them more depth in the future... a scary thought.
It’s a shame injury has ruled out Shaun Johnson from hitting the Test arena. I would have loved to have seen him alongside Benji Marshall or Kieran Foran... he is one of those special talents that coaches dream of guiding. The losses of ‘The Beast’ Manu Vatuvei, Adam Blair and Steve Matai are also huge for New Zealand. These three are the leaders in this team and it will be hard to cover for them. But no doubt Kiwi coach Stephen Kearney, after a long year at Parramatta, will have his charges prepared to ambush the Aussies again up in Newcastle.
Over recent weeks we have also witnessed England claiming back a few of our players. The Wests Tigers’ Chris Heighington and Brisbane’s young gun Jack Reed have both elected to represent England this year. I would imagine it will be a funny feeling for them when they are singing ‘God Save The Queen’ before ripping in against some club team-mates!
Good luck to them though – they are going to experience something very special and create some fantastic memories.
I think this year’s Four Nations series is going to be very close. However, it’s imperative we get off to a good start on Sunday and give our young side some confidence before they head overseas.
Go the Kangaroos!