New Ki­wis’ spine will get bet­ter yet

Marlborough Express - - FRONT PAGE -

The Ki­wis’ ‘‘spine’’ si­lenced all their doubters on Satur­day night while the Kan­ga­roos have a week to find a de­cent chi­ro­prac­tor in

Auck­land.

It was a pass­ing of the guard for both sides at Mt Smart Sta­dium, the new-look spine, or full­back, hooker, halves com­bi­na­tion, for both the Ki­wis and Kan­ga­roos was a topic of much dis­cus­sion lead­ing into the one-off test.

No­body re­ally knew what to ex­pect.

Aus­tralia were with­out fu­ture hall-of-famers Cameron Smith, Cooper Cronk, Johnathan Thurston and Billy Slater while the Ki­wis were blood­ing a new hooker and rookie cap­tain at full­back. And for the first time in a long time, it’s ad­van­tage New Zealand in that de­part­ment.

The spine is the body’s cen­tral sup­port struc­ture, which works to keep us up­right and serves as the con­nec­tion to all other mov­ing parts.

In rugby league it’s no dif­fer­ent, key po­si­tions es­sen­tial to the func­tion of a foot­ball team – the No 1, 6, 7 and 9.

Aus­tralia have been blessed in that de­part­ment for the bet­ter part of a decade, but it looks as though the tide may have fi­nally turned.

Led by Dallin Watenezelez­niak and man of the match Shaun John­son, the Ki­wis’ spine dom­i­nated their heav­ily favoured ri­vals, win­ning 26-24 – a score­line that flat­tered the out-of­sorts Kan­ga­roos.

Watene-zelez­niak said post­match the re­sult was a foun­da­tion for which the side, un­der new coach Michael Maguire, will build from and like any rugby league dy­nasty, their spine will be a key com­po­nent. In an added boost, it’s one wait­ing to wel­come back ar­guably its most im­por­tant ver­te­brae, in Roger Tuiv­asa-sheck.

The new com­bi­na­tions work, that much is clear. While no­body would ar­gue John­son didn’t de­serve man of the match, it could have just as eas­ily gone to any one of his fel­low mem­bers in that Ki­wis’ spine.

Watene-zelez­niak was elec­tric from his first carry, Kodi Niko­rima had lim­ited op­por­tu­ni­ties but gave John­son plenty of good early ball to work with and rookie rake Bran­don Smith scored a try and had an­other dis­al­lowed in a break­out game for the Wai­heke Rams ju­nior.

They were per­fectly aligned from the open­ing whis­tle, while on the other side, Aus­tralia were un­char­ac­ter­is­ti­cally un­sta­ble from the jump.

A col­lec­tion of bril­liant in­di­vid­u­als wasn’t enough. In con­trast the Kan­ga­roos looked disor­gan­ised and dis­jointed in their key po­si­tions, though coach Mal Meninga won’t panic.

De­spite the re­sult, it’s been a long time since a Kan­ga­roos side have ran out with­out the likes of Smith and Thurston as the pil­lars in that green and gold spine.

They also lost first-choice five-eighth Cameron Mun­ster ear­lier in the week and had his re­place­ment, Luke Keary, knocked out in the 17th minute.

It was also the de­but test for hooker Damien Cook and full­back James Tedesco, who will be bet­ter for the ex­pe­ri­ence.

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