Hodges: Kiwis' key to Kangaroo conquest
It's no secret that the Kiwis have struggled to win the mid-year Tests against the Kangaroos for the best part of 20 years but they have something this week that they haven't had in the past: continuity in key positions.
Shaun Johnson and Issac Luke both played for New Zealand in their Four Nations loss to Australia last November but now they have Kieran Foran and Roger Tuivasa-Sheck completing their 'spine', players they have spent the off-season training alongside and also playing with for the Warriors the past five weeks.
It's been no coincidence that the Warriors have looked a far more composed team since Kieran has come back and if New Zealand coach David Kidwell builds his team this week around what those four guys bring the Kiwis will be very dangerous.
The fact that Cameron Smith, Cooper Cronk and Johnathan Thurston can come in and pick up where they left off has been so important to the success of the Kangaroos and also Queensland the past decade.
'Smithy' and Cooper have the added benefit of having played every game of their NRL careers together and combined with 10 years of playing with 'Johno' at Origin level these weeks of short preparation are far less of an issue.
At best, in a week such as this you might only get three sessions together out on the field so with four Warriors players making up the New Zealand spine and all in good form Kidwell and his coaching staff for once don't have to worry about starting from scratch.
Since the start of the 2015 Four Nations tournament the Kiwis have had six different halves combinations but as we saw in the Anzac Test of 2015 that New Zealand won 26-12, their best option is the pairing of Foran and Johnson.
It's why Mal Meninga is traditionally so loyal to the players who have done the job for him in the past. Guys like Trent Merrin and David Klemmer may not be in the best form right now but Mal knows he only has a few days to prepare and by showing that loyalty he will most likely get the best out of them.
Because we know what a dangerous team the Kiwis can be we never discussed their poor record in these mid-year Tests and if their big forwards get rolling through the middle they're more than capable of causing an upset in Canberra.
After the Test on Friday night I'm really excited to see how the Pacific nations fare across the weekend, particularly Samoa against England.
With the likes of Anthony Milford, Josh McGuire and Joey Leilua I think Samoa can beat England and the game between Tonga and Fiji is going to be a beauty.
Now that players who miss out on selection for Australia and New Zealand can play for these emerging nations we're going to see them perform much better on the international stage which will be great for the World Cup at the end of the year and into the future.
There are so many wonderfully-talented players in the NRL with Pacific Island backgrounds and allowing them to represent their heritage without the worry about missing out on Origin is going to be great for the growth of Test football and really challenge the dominance of Australia and New Zealand.
As a Queenslander the concept of the City-Country fixture was always a mystery to me, especially when it stopped being a genuine selection trial for State of Origin.
I understand the history behind it but when clubs are pulling their players out and they struggle to even put a team together it's time to try something else to help rugby league in regional areas in New South Wales and Queensland.
I've heard a lot of talk about each team taking an NRL game each year to a regional area but there are only a very few cities with the facilities and infrastructure to be able to host two NRL teams.
Since I've retired I've been fortunate to travel to many regional areas with the Maroons and also the Beyond the Broncos program and whenever we can we take some time out to simply have a game of touch footy with the kids or pop down and help with a sausage sizzle at the footy club.
Rather than looking at one big exercise around an NRL game I think that more regular community visits by NRL stars would be a far more practical way to help promote the game in those areas and prove to be just as effective.