NRL.com Roundtable: Aus v NZ
Australia takes on New Zealand in Perth on Saturday ahead of the upcoming Four Nations tournament in England, starting later this month. So before the international period begins, we talk about how the Kangaroos and Kiwis are shaping up.
Dominic Brock (Production Editor): OK, we're talking Australia v NZ in Perth. Let's start by discussing the reigning Four Nations champions: New Zealand. What are the strengths and weaknesses of this Kiwis team?
Andy Bryan (Deputy Editor): The forward pack for starters...
Tony Webeck (Chief Queensland Correspondent): They've got lots of really big blokes; worried they don't have the halves to make the most of it.
Chris Kennedy (National Correspondent): Strengths are obviously the forwards. And I guess Shaun Johnson aside, the talent and experience in key playmaking roles is a worry. They'll need to get the best out of Leuluai and Luke to be a chance.
AB: That forward pack though, they have mobile guys who can play long minutes and work the edges, then they have the huge bodies who can barnstorm the middle of the field.
CK: Looking at guys like Jesse Bromwich, Kevin Proctor, Tohu Harris, Jared Waerea-Hargreaves though. That is potentially such a dominant pack. So much size and power.
Martin Gabor (National Correspondent): It's a great mix up front. Bromwich, JWH and Taumalolo will eat the metres, Proctor and Harris will get through a mountain of work on the edges, and they've got plenty of support on the bench as well.
TW: If the centres see much of the football I'll be stunned. Jordan Kahu is brave at the back but doesn't have the same presence as RTS.
AB: The only other weakness might be a lack of a utility. Lewis Brown covers a lot of positions, but he isn't the dynamic player to cut a game open with tiring legs.
CK: That bench is better than they had in the mid-year Test with Blair, Ma'u and Taupau all coming on for impact. I was wondering if they may have been tempted to gamble on Te Maire Martin as an impact utility. Lack of quality game time is a massive issue for him despite his experiences with Junior Kiwis.
MG: I'm not sure they'll look to beat Australia on the fringes. Guys like SKD and Kata will bash their way through the middle from dummy-half, while someone like Rapana will be sniffing around the ruck looking for offloads from the big guys.
TW: We might see the best game Issac Luke has played in 12 months also if those big lads roll forward like we expect.
AB: Yes, up the middle will be the plan you assume.
DB: OK let's turn our attention to their opponents and the Four Nations favourites. How are Mal Meninga's Kangaroos looking at this stage?
AB: Favourites? I like the look of the Kiwis.
DB: I assume the Roos start favourites for every tournament...
TW: They've got almost the exact opposite problem, all the playmakers but light on up front given withdrawal of Woods and Papalii.
AB: Yes, the Kangaroos could struggle in the middle, a lot of experience gone, and some big bodies missing.
CK: If they go with the Boyd-Thurston-Cronk-Smith rotation for this Test they'll be very hard to beat. But these games are won in the forwards so it will be a big Test for Matt Scott, Trent Merrin, Klemmer and so on.
DB: The strengths of this Aussie team are still pretty strong, though.
AB: No doubt, but it has certainly changed a lot in the last few years with Parker, Gallen and co now gone.
MG: They still have the best spine of all time and some of the finest finishers in the game, and if the forwards can lay some sort of platform, expect Smith and JT to run riot. It also helps having someone like Darius Boyd who is in the form of his life running the show out the back.
TW: But even they are dependent on the work of the forwards. If they get dominated in the middle even the best struggle on the back foot.
CK: I can't help but wonder if they missed a trick not picking Ryan James. He had such a massive year. They've gone for a bolter at prop with Shannon Boyd who is a huge body and in form but in my opinion James had the biggest year of any prop not to have played Test footy previously.
AB: He must have gone extremely close.
TW: I might be biased but I'm stunned he hasn't been called in for Papalii. Might have been the wrong time to have a holiday in Bali with the missus.
DB: What do we think of the decision to leave out Gallen and Parker? Is 'planning for the future' a worthwhile focus when there's a Four Nations tournament coming up that Australia are expected to win?
AB: Yes – this is the last tournament before the World Cup, and while the Four Nations is important it's also about building momentum. The time was right.
TW: Parker I get; I'm still in shock the captain of the NSW team and premiership winners didn't get a guernsey.
MG: I understand the Parker omission given his retirement, but Gallen was man of the match in the last Test.
CK: I'm pretty shocked Gallen isn't there but I don't think you could pick Parker. Parker's pedigree is beyond question but the second half of 2016 was a long way from his best and he's retired from the NRL. Gallen is trickier as he'll retire just before the World Cup – but he was man of the match in the mid-year Test and still in great form.
AB: I guess if they had known about Papalii, Gallen would be in the squad.
DB: Yeah I tend to think Australia should play their best squad, every tournament. If they don't win the Four Nations but do win the World Cup, that's still below expectations.
AB: Fair point.
CK: With so many new faces in the forwards you'd think Gallen's experience would have been welcome as well, to guide the new blokes.
DB: Of course, selectors might feel Gallen is no longer in their best squad, but he did make more metres per game than anyone in the NRL this year and just captained his team to a grand final win...
AB: And he might still have a decent season next year and could have played at the World Cup.
CK: If it was a one-off Test with high stakes on the line you'd have to think Gal would have been one of the first forwards picked.
TW: Mal obviously got worried by the potential monstering of not only this Kiwi team but an England side boasting three Burgi and a Graham.
AB: Hmm. Gallen suits the English conditions to a tee though. He often got Player's Player when I was part of the Kangaroos staff over the last few tours. Just does so many of those hard runs in the boggy conditions.
TW: Imagine how heavy those tree trunks of Shannon Boyd will get on a soggy night in Leeds.
AB: Also in defence, need to be able to keep mobile and move laterally. Becomes a lot more important.
MG: So who starts at lock? Klemmer? Jake Trbojevic? Someone else?
DB: Klemmer did play lock for the Bulldogs for the second half of the season.
TW: Merrin for mine.
CK: Surely Merrin at lock after the year he had.
AB: Merrin is pencilled into my team at lock.
MG: But of course.
DB: Misses NSW squad, starting lock for Australia...
CK: Yes Merrin was the real surprise omission for the Blues this year. I wonder if he gets a recall in 2017 if he holds his form.
MG: Gallen has retired at Origin level so he'd have to be favourite.
TW: I wouldn't be surprised if Jake T comes straight in at lock to be honest. Big body with high workrate, that might be very appealing to Mal.
CK: Surely not for this weekend though. The Scotland game maybe.
AB: That's a lot to ask of Jake, though I think he would handle it. Think Merrin would edge him as starting choice.
CK: We haven't talked much about the strike out wide. Josh Mansour is out of this weekend due to his wedding which looks like it hands Val Holmes a Test debut. No Radradra this time round. Do Dugan and Ferguson remain on the right edge? That's where Val usually plays, Mansour is the only left winger in the squad. Inglis at left centre looks a certainty.
DB: What are our predictions for Saturday's game? Andy, you said you like the look of the Kiwis?
AB: In this one-off game? Kangaroos usually favourites, especially with an afternoon kick-off time. But if those forwards get on a roll, it will be very hard for the Kangaroos to stop them. It is just a matter if the Kiwis have the patience and if their halves can create enough off the back off it.
TW: On a fast Perth track I'm going to pencil in Darius Boyd as man of the match because his linking with the outside men is going to be so important for the 'Roos. And Fergy to score a double.
AB: The Kangaroos backline might also struggle with cohesion in their first run with the likes of Dugan and Ferguson. They'll need a bit of time to get combinations working.
MG: The Kiwis have won three of the last four matches against Australia, but I just can't go past the Kangaroos. They are 1/1 in Perth (a 57-5 win over the WA Firsts at Cannington Raceway in 1982) and I think they can continue their unbeaten record in the west. Australia 22-12, Darius Boyd 1st try scorer, Cam Smith MOTM.
DB: Stat-man Martin at his best.
AB: Couldn't help himself. Good contribution off the bench.
TW: It's been a big talking point in camp, their undefeated record in WA.
CK: Yeah I think the ability to take advantage of opportunities through the likes of Cronk and Thurston gives the Roos the edge despite the Kiwis' forward power. Aussies by 12 for mine.
AB: I'll go Kiwis by 4. Hargreaves MOM.
DB: Cheers guys. We'll be back to discuss this weekend's result and preview the Four Nations next week. Enjoy the game.