Stuart a big fan of key Kiwi Matai - Sports News - Fanatics - the world's biggest events

Stuart a big fan of key Kiwi Matai

By Todd Balym 24/10/2008 06:46:36 PM Comments (0)

Last year Ricky Stuart called New Zealand hitman Steve Matai a "cheap shot" merchant.

A premiership and 12 months later, the Australian coach wishes the Manly centre was in his football team.

Matai drew the ire of Stuart and his Kangaroos after his 24th-minute send off for an ugly high tackle on Mark Gasnier in the 58-0 loss in Wellington in October last year.

"It was late and it was a cheap shot - it is in his (Matai's) game," Stuart said at the time.

"We see reaction high shots and some of them aren't send-offs. But this was late and Matai knew what he was doing."

But proving time can heal all wounds, Stuart has rated Matai as one of the key Kiwi players to stop in Sunday's World Cup clash at the Sydney Football Stadium.

"I think Steve Matai is probably one of the most improved centres in the game this year," said Stuart.

"He is the sort of player you'd love to have. He is tough, fast and hard. This is typical of his style of football.

"He is tough to deal with. He is a tough character and I'm expecting a big game from him."

New Zealand have not beaten Australia since Stuart took over the Kangaroos in 2006, their last victory coming in the 2005 Tri Nations final debacle when they won 24-0 at Leeds.

But Stuart is wary of the New Zealand danger this week, particularly with Benji Marshall playing his first game against Australia since the 2007 Anzac Test.

Marshall starred in New Zealand's 56-8 rout of Tonga last week and Stuart admitted the flashy five-eighth had been a focal point at training this week.

"I thought Benji Marshall ran the show and stole the day. He was outstanding," said Stuart.

"I think you will find Benji will play a lot of first-pass-off-the-ruck and he will be the main indicator in the game.

"He is a special talent and it's a big stage and that is where the best players step up to the plate."

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