Wests Tigers v Sea Eagles preview
3 hours ago | Tim Costello
New look sides reconvene Trans-Tasman rivalry
Having gone down to Australia in their past five meetings and managing just three wins and a dispiriting draw in the time since Stephen Kearney's departure as national coach, the New Zealand Kiwis will be hoping to reassert their claims as a heavyweight of the international rugby league arena. Still reeling from last year's dismal World Cup campaign wherein the former champions endured the humiliation of losing to Tonga and Fiji, former Rabbitohs premiership winning mentor Michael Maguire will be hoping to build off of the mid-year Denver Test loss to England with a strong showing against Australia before embarking on a northern hemisphere tour in the coming weeks. Making a number of intriguing selections with an eye towards the future, the absence of established representatives Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, Issac Luke and Tohu Harris has seen Penrith's Dallin Watene-Zelezniak named as the youngest New Zealand captain, while having been exiled due to drug use last year, Jesse Bromwich and Kevin Proctor have been recalled. Retaining eight members of the side beaten 36-18 against England back in June, Roosters premiership winner Joseph Manu and Melbourne utility Brandon Smith have been named to debut, while despite earning Rookie of the Year honours at the Dally M's, Jamayne Isaako has been unable to retain his place ahead of Jordan Rapana in the backline.
Experiencing a major transition from the decade of success built off of international mainstays Slater, Thurston, Cronk and Smith, the Australian Kangaroos will be looking to uphold their reputation as the pre-eminent rugby league nation. Appearing in the test match arena for the first time since the World Cup Final last December, just eight members remain from the team that defeated England 6-0 with the majority of the side earning deserved recognition for their efforts as part of Brad Fittler's triumphant New South Wales squad. Naming eight successful Blues including newly-appointed captain Boyd Cordner, six Queenslanders have claimed jerseys after strong showings in the final Origin clash, while despite poor early season form and long-term injury Aaron Woods and Jordan McLean have retained their World Cup positions. Naming James Tedesco, Latrell Mitchell, Damien Cook and Luke Keary on debut, coach Mal Meninga will have plenty of confidence in the rookie quartet following outstanding performances throughout the regular season, while having endured a tumultuous representative exile Daly Cherry-Evans has been tasked with the halfback duties. Winning the past 13 tests dating back to 2016, the Kangaroos will fancy their chances at Mt. Smart Stadium having claimed four wins and a draw from six meetings, the last of which coming more than a decade ago in 2006.
Last meeting: Anzac Test 2017 - Australia 30 New Zealand 12
Who to watch: Earmarked as a Kiwi of the future prior to debuting in first grade last year, 22-year-old Brandon Smith is set to start at hooker for only the second time in his career on Saturday evening. Selected as a development player for the ANZAC Test in Canberra 18 months ago, the highly-rated Melbourne utility will need to be at his best opposing fellow test rookie Damien Cook, while given the lack of recognised dummy half support off the bench, the spirited Waiheke junior may be required to go the distance for the first time in the biggest match of his career. Set to make the New Zealand number nine jersey his own for many years to come, the magnitude of playing such a prominent role against the world's best shapes as a defining moment in the career of a player boasting just 21 appearances in the top grade.
Enjoying a dream year with Origin and premiership success already, James Tedesco will be out make a statement in his test debut in order to secure the Australian fullback role for years to come. Considered an unlucky omission from last year's World Cup squad, the 25-year-old justified his place as Billy Slater's successor with starring performances against Slater and the greatest challenger for the number one jersey, Valentine Holmes, during the finals to leave no doubts in the minds of selectors. Renown for leaving opponent breathless with scorching pace, the Roosters' star recruit looms as a solid prospect to cross the line on Saturday evening, but as he proved throughout 2018, arguably his greatest asset lays in his ability to set up teammates with superbly-timed passes.
The favourite: Despite a significant changing of the guard from the side that prevailed in the World Cup Final last December, the Kangaroos are expected to account for the fresh-faced Kiwis.
My tip: While the Kiwis have previously produced a number of famous upsets and occasionally outclassed the Kangaroos completely, the youthful approach favoured by coach Michael Maguire looks set to pay off in the long term, but is likely to fall short against such a formidable Australian roster. Australia by 16.
1. Dallin Watene-Zelezniak 2. Ken Maumalo 3. Esan Marsters 4. Joseph Manu 5. Jordan Rapana 6. Shaun Johnson 7. Kodi Nikorima 8. Jesse Bromwich 9. Brandon Smith 10. Jared Waerea-Hargreaves 11. Kevin Proctor 12. Isaac Liu 13. James Fisher-Harris 14. Kenneath Bromwich 15. Leeson Ah Mau 16. Martin Taupau 17. Adam Blair
1. James Tedesco 2. Dane Gagai 3. Latrell Mitchell 4. Tom Trbojevic 5. Valentine Holmes 6. Luke Keary 7. Daly Cherry-Evans 8. David Klemmer 9. Damien Cook 10. Jordan McLean 11. Boyd Cordner 12. Felise Kaufusi 13. Josh Mcguire 14. Ben Hunt 15. Jake Trbojevic 16. Tyson Frizell 17. Aaron Woods
Referees: Ashley Klein; Sideline Officials: Dave Munro, Nick Beashel; Video Referees: Steve Chiddy, Ben Galea;