Kangaroos fend away talk of disrespect
Australia have elected to leave the NRL Telstra Premiership's best player out of their squad for this weekend's clash against the Kiwis, but claims it is a disrespectful act have been rubbished by the Kangaroos' coach and captain.
Halfback Cooper Cronk will watch from the sidelines when his team play New Zealand in their second game of the 2016 Four Nations this Sunday morning (AEDT), suggesting the world champions believe they can get the job done even without the 2016 Dally M Medal winner.
But coach Mal Meninga refuted those ideas, insisting the decision was based entirely on his own team's needs.
"It is not about being disrespectful [to the Kiwis], it's about being respectful around the [Australian] team," Meninga said.
"We have got 24 great players who deserve an opportunity to play, so it's more about that and resting Cooper.
"He has had a big year, played every game, he has played the grand final and the last two games so it's more about rest and getting him right, hopefully for the back end of this tour.
"I realise that [New Zealand may view it as arrogance], but it's more about respecting the players I have got internally here."
In Cronk's absence Meninga confirmed that Maroons representative Michael Morgan is likely to start the game in the halves, where he will partner North Queensland teammate Johnathan Thurston.
There are also plans to inject premiership-winning Cronulla five-eighth James Maloney into the game against the reigning Four Nations champions.
Kangaroos captain Cameron Smith said that while it would be a strange feeling to play a Test without Cronk in the side, it was a move which had been in the making since before Australia departed for England this month.
"We were given an indication back in Australia that everyone was going to get an opportunity and that at some stage someone was going to get a rest, and this week it's Cooper," Smith said.
"The make-up of the side is a lot different than we are used to, but we are still fielding a very strong side, we have picked 24 of the best players available from this season.
"I am not in their (New Zealand's) shoes so I am not going to make an opinion on the way they think or the way they feel, but if I was New Zealand and playing against the Kangaroos I would believe that the Kangaroos were taking this very seriously, and we are.
"They can have whatever thoughts they want, our focus is on ourselves and we feel this is the best decision to make moving forward in this tournament."
New Zealand meanwhile weren't willing to discuss the topic, with coach David Kidwell, captain Jesse Bromwich and veteran forward Adam Blair all steering away from questions about Cronk's absence.
"We are just worried about us and what we do," Kidwell said.
"Not at all [does it change the game plan], we have got our focusses for the game and we know what we need to do."