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Matai on trial for Kiwis berth

Chris Barclay 15/04/2011 05:02:54 PM Comments (0)

Steve Matai is not just on a virtual good behaviour bond with the NRL, the hard-hitting Manly centre is also on trial for the next three rounds as New Zealand selectors ponder next month's Test match.

Matai's 2011 season started belatedly against Cronulla last weekend, the legacy of a seven-game suspension last September that also ruled him out of New Zealand's triumphant Four Nations campaign.

The 26-year-old is not exactly a reformed character - his club coach Des Hasler, teammates and Kiwis coach Steve Kearney all applaud his aggressive intent, though another appearance before the NRL judiciary is likely to produce another lengthy ban.

Kearney's prime concern in round six has been preparing his Parramatta side but on Saturday he will also take a close interest in the Warriors' visit to Brookvale Oval.

Matai's form and temperament will be of particular interest ahead of the May 6 Test on the Gold Coast.

With Jerome Ropati already out of contention through injury, Matai has an opportunity to add to his 12 Test caps with compelling form against the Warriors, Penrith and North Queensland.

Shaun Kenny-Dowall has locked down one centre berth leaving Matai and Newcastle's Junior Sa'u contenders for the other position, although Warriors captain Simon Mannering played there for two of the Kiwis' proudest moments - the 2008 World Cup victory and last year's Four Nations defeat of Australia.

Kearney acknowledged Matai, Sa'u and Mannering were all contenders.

"Simon's played well in the centres for us before, and now for the Warriors," Kearney said.

"Junior can play there and Steve's just come back. It opens up an opportunity for them to make a stand."

History suggests selecting Matai could be a risk given his chequered disciplinary record, which includes a send-off against the Kangaroos in 2007.

But Kearney still rates the Sea Eagle's mean streak.

"That's his style of footy. He wouldn't be Steve Matai if he wasn't like that," Kearney said.

"If he's part of the Anzac week I get him for two or three training sessions so I'm not going to change that."

Although Matai is no certainty to be named on May 1, Manly five-eighth Kieran Foran is guaranteed to partner Benji Marshall in the halves providing he stays fit.

Foran, who combined with the Golden Boot winner for the first time in last year's mid-season Test, has been impressive for Manly in 2011.

The 20-year-old was unfortunate to miss the Four Nations because of post-season shoulder surgery, and Kearney would like to see his uncompromising defence modified.

"Kieran's a victim of his own toughness to be honest," Kearney said.

"That's why he spent a lot of last year injured. He wants to tackle front-rowers and run the ball into front-rowers when that's not really his job."

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