Hodges and Slater a loss: Jennings
Roosters centre Michael Jennings has entered the Kangaroos 17 for Friday's Trans-Tasman Test as a result of injury to Billy Slater but it's another man he's kept out of the side – senior centre Justin Hodges – who has been the most noteworthy absentee from the Australian Test side this week.
Hodges only recently returned from a hamstring injury for the Broncos and, having announced his retirement from representative football from the end of 2015, was hoping for a swansong in the traditional mid-year Test.
He was denied first when coach Tim Sheens handed a debut to in-form Storm and Maroons centre Will Chambers, but when fullback Billy Slater was ruled out and Greg Inglis switched from centre to fullback, it was Jennings who was next in line.
Hodges has been disappointed but philosophical about the decision. Jennings said he's just grateful for the opportunity no matter how it arose, but admitted the Kangaroos would miss the experience of Slater and Hodges.
"It's been good [coming into camp] – being 19th man and then getting the call to come into camp and spend some time with the boys was still a positive mindset then getting the call-up was a bonus. It was unfortunate with Billy missing out but I'm just really grateful for this opportunity," Jennings said on Wednesday.
He conceded his club form had been "patchy" in recent weeks but added he no longer ever felt out of place in the green and gold.
"[My form] was good to start then over the last couple of weeks it's been a bit patchy. There's always room for improvement. I've got confidence in whatever I do and if I can back my ability – I'm pretty comfortable where I am now."
Jennings said 13-Test veteran Hodges – who Jennings replaced in the Kangaroos 17 for a 2009 Four Nations rubber against France to make his debut – had helped him out in that series back when Jennings was a Test rookie.
"I played alongside him in '09 and he's a champion fella, he helped me out and showed me the ropes of playing Test footy and how it is in camp," Jennings said.
"I've had some good battles with him – you always want to play against the best players and challenge yourself and he's a player you want to challenge yourself [against] and be better from.
"My first encounter with him I think he stepped me a few times and scored [against] me – he's that kind of dynamic player that's really hard to defend one-on-one.
"You don't think he's that strong when you look at him but playing against him and that right foot step, he's really strong and powerful, it's deceiving when you see him you don't think he's that strong and powerful and he's good on his feet."
On the Kiwis, Jennings said the Four Nations loss had been "heartbreaking" and identified his Roosters teammate Roger Tuivasa-Sheck as one of New Zealand's danger men.
"His footwork is unpredictable, you can call his left foot out but he can still step you with that left foot. It's got to be a team effort that's going to have to stop Roger," Jennings said.
He added Kiwi coach Steve Kearney had done a great job in bringing a few youngsters through the system.
"Kearney's done a really good job, he's done a real good job with their halves and the younger players coming through. They're getting a lot of Test footy under their belt, they're starting to get a lot of experience," he said.