Junior Kiwis relishing home advantage
They may not boast a single player with first-grade experience, while their opponents have seven, but the Junior Kiwis believe plenty of factors are tilted in their favour ahead of Saturday night’s clash with the Junior Kangaroos.
With inferior senior experience, the New Zealanders will rely on the recent success of their players in the Holden Cup finals, with 16 of the 18 named in their squad having taken part in the National Youth Competition finals series.
“It’s an advantage that these boys have been playing football consistently, otherwise it would have been a big break,” said coach Brent Gemmell ahead of the game at Mount Smart Stadium.
“I think there is only Nelson (Asofa-Solomona) and Sione (Katoa) who were not a part of the finals campaign, so the majority of the boys have been playing football up until as recently as two weeks ago – it’s definitely a help.”
The Junior Kangaroos on the other hand will run out with five players who haven’t played a minute of footy since the first week of September.
The young Kiwis are also savouring the rare chance to play on home soil, with many of the Australian-based players usually only returning to New Zealand for away matches against the Warriors.
“A lot of the boys are New Zealanders returning to New Zealand and they are really looking forward to playing on home soil,” Gemmell said.
“Getting home on Mount Smart Stadium, a lot of their families only get to watch them on TV usually so there is that added bonus, it’s a real nice one to have a Test at home to be honest.
“The boys got together on Sunday and the bond comes really quickly with this group of guys.”
Still fresh in the Kiwis’ minds is last year’s late-collapse in the corresponding fixture, which saw them surrender a 26-10 halftime lead to lose 38-26 to the Australians at Jubilee Oval.
Only three players - hooker Manaia Cherrington, second-rower Joseph Tapine and halfback Zach Docker-Clay - remain from that game, but according to Gemmell the lessons learned need to be taken into Saturday’s match.
“They understand what it is going to take to beat an Australian team; you are going to have to play until the 80th minute if you want to win,” he said.
“I think any football team is built off solid go-forward. We have got a very strong pack, we have a solid spine with some good football brains there.
“I think we have really good hookers who are going to bring on that forward pack - Manaia who is captain and Danny Levi who captains his Newcastle side - they will get us forward with big brains.”
Meanwhile front-rower Sam Lisone - who captained the Junior Warriors to Holden Cup glory three weeks ago - shared his disappointment that more of his teammates weren’t included in the Kiwi squad.
Aside from Lisone back-rower Adam Tuimavave-Gerard was the only Junior Warrior to make the side, despite their spectacular form at the back end of the season.
“It’s a bit of a shocker but I guess that’s footy, that’s the way they see it and that’s the way it’s going to go,” Lisone said.