Matulino & Leuluai return to Kiwi lineup
Warriors prop Ben Matulino and Wigan utility Thomas Leuluai are both back in the Kiwis' line-up for Friday night's Gillette Four Nations opener against Kangaroos at The Halliwell Jones Stadium in Warrington.
Matulino replaces club-mate Russell Packer, ruled out for this game after being handed a one-match suspension following a tackle on Australian captain Darren Lockyer in the 6-42 loss to the Kangaroos in Newcastle on October 16.
Matulino takes debutant Packer's starting spot while 22-Test veteran Adam Blair remains unavailable as he serves the last match of his suspension dating back to the Melbourne Storm's regular season NRL clash against Manly.
The only other change in the personnel used in Newcastle sees Leuluai (26) coming into the squad for 20-Test campaigner Nathan Fien. Issac Luke has been handed the starting hooker's role Fien filled 10 days ago while Leuluai, the side's most experienced international with 27 Tests, has been named on the bench, coming back into the line-up for the first time since the Kiwis' 16-12 win over the Australians in last November's Four Nations final.
There is also a positional switch with Melbourne second rower Sika Manu brought into the starting line-up while Alex Glenn (Brisbane), one of five Test debutants in Newcastle, goes to the bench. The backline is unchanged while prop Sam McKendry and back rowers Simon Mannering and Jeremy Smith are still in their starting roles with Fuifui Moimoi and Jared Waerea-Hargreaves again the interchange front rowers.
Young Melbourne second rower Kevin Proctor has been chosen as the 18th man.
"We obviously weren't pleased with the way we performed in Newcastle," said Kearney. "We've worked hard since we've been here to give us the best possible chance of producing the kind of performance we expect of ourselves.
"We set high standards within the team and we all know those weren't achieved the last time we played Australia."
One of the few players to emerge from the Newcastle encounter with credit was Warriors fullback Kevin Locke, named the team's player of the day after his Test debut. He scored New Zealand's only try, made 161 metres from 15 runs and also produced eight tackle breaks.
As a 20-year-old NRL rookie, he wasn't given any game time when he first visited England with the Kiwis for their 2009 Four Nations campaign and knows his first Test here will be a huge challenge.
"It is going to be very tough on Friday night," he said.
"We've just got to try to forget about the game we had in Newcastle. It was a poor performance by us but it's a new week, a new team and hopefully we can bounce back with a good performance."
The New Zealanders have had two field runs plus weights sessions and recovery sessions since arriving in Liverpool last Friday. After indulging in some ten pin bowling - Matulino was the individual star - on a rest day today they'll have their final run at Halliwell Jones Stadium tomorrow.
The Kiwis have been based at the Hilton across the road from Albert Dock, the major tourist attraction which houses The Beatles Story. The hotel is just a short walk from the Cavern Club in Mathew Street, where the Fab Four forged their reputation.
New Zealand Kiwis team:
Kevin Locke; Kalifa Faifai Loa (North Queensland), Lewis Brown (NZ Warriors), Gerard Beale (Brisbane), Jason Nightingale (St George Illawarra); Benji Marshall (Wests Tigers, capt), Kieran Foran (Manly); Ben Matulino, Issac Luke (South Sydney), Sam McKendry (Penrith), Sika Manu (Melbourne), Simon Mannering (NZ Warriors), Jeremy Smith (Cronulla); Subs: Thomas Leuluai (Wigan), Fuifui Moimoi (Parramatta), Alex Glenn (Brisbane), Jared Waerea-Hargreaves (Sydney Roosters).