Five-eighth in the thick of it

Toko­roa’s Isaac John will have a bap­tism by fire for his coun­try in this weekend’s fa­mous An­zac test in Syd­ney. Chris Barclay re­ports.

South Waikato News - - NEWS -

Isaac John has been cast as a mod­ern- day Olsen Fili­paina, a re­serve grader chal­lenged with step­ping up to counter the world cham­pion Kan­ga­roos as depth in the cru­cial halves com­bi­na­tion reemerges as the Ki­wis’ Achilles heel in the face of a seem­ingly hope­less task.

John is one of six debu­tants named in the Ki­wis’ 18- man squad for Fri­day’s An­zac Test in Syd­ney, and can ex­pect the tough­est ini­ti­a­tion imag­in­able as Kieran Fo­ran’s re­place­ment against an Aus­tralian side that has not lost the tra­di­tional mid­sea­son in­ter­na­tional since 1999.

Fili­paina fa­mously made the step up from the Bal­main Tigers sec­ond stringers to help steer the Ki­wis to an un­ex­pected vic­tory in the third test against Aus­tralia at Car­law Park in 1985 when mark­ing the great Wally Lewis.

John, a for­mer New Zealand War­rior who left Mt Smart for Eng­land’s Su­per League in 2012 when Shaun John­son was ear­marked as the club’s new Stacey Jones, now faces a sim­i­lar sce­nario at Al­lianz Sta­dium when the Ki­wis’ fourth choice fiveeighth goes up against North Queens­land mae­stro Johnathan Thurston.

John made an en­cour­ag­ing re­turn to the NRL last year when of­fered a life­line at Pen­rith by for­mer War­riors coach Ivan Cleary, though the ac­qui­si­tion of Jamie Soward and Peter Wal­lace have seen the Toko­roa-born five-eighth des­ig­nated NSW Cup du­ties un­less in­juries in­ter­vene.

The 25- year- old earned his un­ex­pected Ki­wis call- up af­ter Josh Hoff­man was ruled out with an Achilles in­jury and, al­though he has only played three NRL games this sea­son, John can at least lean on his World Cup ex­pe­ri­ence with the Cook Is­lands last year as he com­bines with for­mer age-group ri­val John­son.

Af­ter Fo­ran was ruled out with a knee in­jury, Thomas Leu­luai and Hoff­man also suc­cumbed to leave John fill­ing a con­sid­er­able void as a new-look Ki­wis line-up hope to break an eight-test los­ing streak against the world cham­pi­ons.

John is not alone in pre­par­ing for an omi­nous as­sign­ment.

War­riors’ back-up hooker Sil­via Hav­ili has also in­her­ited a de­mand­ing role af­ter Is­sac Luke, Leu­luai and Eli­jah Tay­lor dropped out of con­tention as the start­ing No. 9

Ki­wis coach Stephen Kear­ney ac­knowl­edged the duo would be un­der pres­sure in the 2013 World Cup fi­nal re­match.

But he said their in­clu­sion, al­beit due to in­jury, was jus­ti­fied as New Zealand Rugby League pre­pared to co-host with Aus­tralia the code’s next global show­case in 2017.

The squad con­tains only five play­ers who en­dured the 34-2 cup­fi­nal loss at Old Traf­ford in Novem­ber.

Al­though in­juries ruled out sev­eral au­to­matic choices, form and de­vel­op­ment were also prime con­sid­er­a­tions when se­lec­tors Kear­ney, Richie Bar­nett and Taw­era Nikau fi­nalised their team.

Photo: GETTY IM­AGES

Eyes on the ball: Isaac John passes the ball dur­ing a Pen­rith Pan­thers NRL train­ing ses­sion.

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