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Luke benched as Kearney tweaks Kiwis

20/10/2010 11:20:30 AM Comments (0)

New Zealand rugby league coach Stephen Kearney has dropped hooker Issac Luke to the bench for the vital Four Nations opener against England in Wellington on Saturday night.

In a shift to the formula which proved so successful during the Kiwis' run to the 2008 World Cup, Kearney has named Thomas Leuluai at hooker and St George Illawarra utility Nathan Fien at halfback alongside skipper Benji Marshall.

It was assumed Luke, who emerged as one of the best dummy-half's in the NRL this year with South Sydney, would wear the No.9 for the Kiwis as the host nation looked to rebound from last year's disappointing Four Nations campaign.

But instead Kearney opted for his World Cup-winning triumvirate in one of several personnel changes to the side which beat Samoa 50-6 in Auckland last weekend.

Sydney Roosters forward Frank-Paul Nuuausala was named on an extended six-man bench, while Simon Mannering will start in the back row ahead of Canterbury-bound forward Frank Pritchard.

"It was difficult to pick our 23-man squad for the Four Nations in the first place and it has been really tough selecting this side to play England," Kearney said.

"At the same time, it's a nice challenge to have. We have lots of players pushing for places, which is the way you want it to be."

The Wellington clash is set to play a huge part in determining the Four Nations fate of both sides, with the winner of that clash in the box seat for a berth in the November 13 final in Brisbane.


NZ: Lance Hohaia, Jason Nightingale, Shaun Kenny-Dowall, Junior Sa'u, Manu Vatuvei, Benji Marshall (capt), Nathan Fien, Greg Eastwood, Thomas Leuluai, Adam Blair, Simon Mannering, Bronson Harrison, Jeremy Smith.

Interchange: Issac Luke, Ben Matulino, Frank-Paul Nuuausala, Frank Pritchard, Sika Manu, Sam Perrett

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