Recalled New Zealand playmaker Kieran Foran has described Kiwis skipper Benji Marshall as an inspiration for all players faced with adversity during their careers.
Both men endured lengthy stints in the international wilderness but they are set to revive their scrumbase combination in Saturday’s Test against Great Britain in Auckland.
After playing his first eight Tests alongside Marshall, Foran has not played with the 34-year-old since 2012 as the Wests Tigers superstar fell from favour with his country and club before being recalled for June’s mid-season Test against Tonga after a seven-year absence from the New Zealand team.
Foran’s last Test appearance was in 2017 and he has only played for the Kiwis once since 2015 due to a horror run with injuries and off-field issues which led to him to changing clubs four times in as many years.
However, after Foran's strong end to the season in his second year at Canterbury, Kiwis coach Michael Maguire has opted for the 29-year-old in place of Shaun Johnson and he will partner Marshall in the halves in Saturday’s triple-header at Eden Park.
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“It’s great to be back and a part of it. I am really looking forward to it,” Foran said. “I have played a few times with Benji and it is a really special moment to go out alongside him.
“He has had a massive influence on the Kiwis jersey. Everyone in the side looks up to him as player and a person. He is a real leader, especially when it comes into this environment and with the New Zealand team.
“He has been around for so long and he has played at such a high level, and been such a great player for so long. We all aspire to have careers like him.”
Foran had just left school when Marshall led New Zealand to victory at the 2008 World Cup and after making nine NRL appearances for Manly as a teenager the following year he made his Test debut in the centres at the end of the 2009 season.
The only other survivors from that Test in Huddersfield against England are forwards Adam Blair and Jared Waerea-Hargreaves.
The pair played their next seven Tests together in the halves but Marshall’s career went into a spin after he was forced out of the Tigers at the end of the 2013 season and endured stints with the Auckland Blues, St George Illawarra and Brisbane before returning to his spiritual home last year.
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“The 2008 World Cup had a massive impact on all Kiwis who were involved in rugby league and for him to be so influential in that and to now be back here leading from the front is a really great thing for this side,” Foran said.
“He has had plenty of highs in his career and there have been some lows. He has had some challenging times but he has never given up and never doubted himself or doubted his ability to play at such a high level.
Benji has had a massive influence on the Kiwis jersey. Everyone in the side looks up to him as player and a person.Kieran Foran
“A lot of lessons can be taken from his career and passed on to a lot of players.”
Johnson’s axing is an indication of the depth the Kiwis now have in the halves, the Cronulla playmaker paying the price for his poor last-tackle options in last Friday’s 26-4 loss to Australia.
Maguire will be looking for Foran to take more control and direct the team around as he did during the Bulldogs' late surge after overcoming ankle, hamstring and back injuries that restricted him to 14 NRL appearances
“We just started too slow and didn’t win enough games early in the season but I really enjoyed the back half of the year,” said Foran.
“It was a tough start for us at the beginning of the year but the way we finished was positive. Hopefully that gives us something to work off in the pre-season and we head into next year with a positive mindset.”