Grand final may decide Test No.7: Stuart - Sports News - Fanatics - the world's biggest events

Grand final may decide Test No.7: Stuart

By Liam FitzGibbon, Steve Jancetic and David Beniuk 26/09/2007 08:32:10 PM Comments (0)

Test coach Ricky Stuart has upped the stakes for grand final halfbacks Matt Orford and Cooper Cronk, making it clear the Kangaroos No.7 jersey is up for grabs at Telstra Stadium on Sunday.

Sea Eagles halfback Orford and his Storm opposite Cronk are prime candidates to fill the jersey in next month's Test match against New Zealand, with incumbent Johnathan Thurston to undergo surgery on his troubled shoulders.

Darren Lockyer's injury means the five-eighth spot must also be filled and Stuart was straight to the point when asked what bearing Sunday's match would have on selection.

"I think it will go a long way, I said that to the boys today," Stuart said as the Kangaroos train-on squad assembled in Sydney for medicals.

"The selectors certainly can't pick 17 out of the next game but it certainly will go a long way in deciding some positions.

"There's a lot of competition for positions and I think it's a good thing and I think you'll probably see a bit of a changing of the guard in a few positions and obviously halfback's a contentious position, halfback and five-eighth, with the injuries to both Darren and Johnathan."

Stuart said Orford and Cronk featuring in the grand final gave both players a firm advantage over their biggest competitor, Gold Coast's Scott Prince, who was dealt a further blow today when he missed the train-on squad medicals after his flight from Queensland was delayed.

"You'd certainly have to look at it and say it is an advantage," Stuart said.

"If a player comes out and gets the Clive Churchill Medal you'd be pretty disappointed if he didn't get picked for Australia.

"Then again, that's happened before, but it's a distinct advantage."

Cronk, a former teammate and "good mate" of Orford's, said the battle against his opposite would not be playing on his mind come Sunday's match.

"My approach is that this is the biggest game in this club's history ... whatever's happening two weeks or three weeks down the track isn't really relevant to me," Cronk said.

"It would be great but I don't want to get caught up in talking about that."

He also dismissed criticism Orford was not a "big game player."

"I just think it's a bit of media hype - you question a bloke who's just got his team into a grand final about his ability to handle pressure, he's just answered that question for you," he said.

"He's the captain of the side as well. There's no doubt that he can win the big games."

Aside from halfback, Stuart said Sunday's game may also provide selectors with a better idea of who should replace injured Brisbane Bronco Karmichael Hunt at fullback.

Stuart said Manly's Brett Stewart, Melbourne's Billy Slater and North Queensland's Matt Bowen were the contenders, seemingly dashing Parramatta's Jarryd Hayne's hopes of securing his favoured position in the Test side.

"You've got one boy here today - Matty Bowen - and two guys playing on the weekend ... it would be very much fair to say that those three players, you'll find one of those will be the fullback come selection time Monday," Stuart said.

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