Marshall, Johnson return for Kiwis match against Tonga

Author
Newstalk ZB, NZ Herald,
Section
Video,
Publish Date
Monday, 17 June 2019, 9:19AM

Get ready for a double dose of magic.

Kiwis fans will have a unique chance to see Shaun Johnson and Benji Marshall together in the same team on Saturday against Tonga.

They are two of the most exciting attacking talents New Zealand has ever produced, and the prospect of the duo combining will garner even more interest in the test.

Kieran Foran is also in the equation in the halves, but coach Michael Maguire hinted at his thinking on Sunday night.

"I've got a few decisions I can make there," said Maguire. "With Shaun and Benji together I'm looking forward to seeing how those boys perform throughout the week. Kieran Foran comes into the fold as well."

Marshall and Johnson have only previously played one international together, in the 2012 Anzac test at Eden Park. That match – memorable for a long range intercept try by the former Warriors favourite – was Johnson's Kiwis debut.

Marshall played his last game for the Kiwis later that year in Townsville, where Johnson wasn't part of the 17.

The 34-year-old Marshall has evolved his game over the years, and isn't the hot stepping dynamo he once was, but he retains a flair for the unexpected.

Maguire said the recall of veterans Foran and Marshall was a reward for performance and persistence, though Kodi Nikorima's absence through injury has also freed up a spot.

"They have earned it and they definitely deserve it by the way they have played," said Maguire. "One thing I want to show is that at any time you can wear that Kiwis jersey, if you are playing and performing at the highest level."

Maguire told Marshall last weekend he was in the wider squad, and then called him late last week to deliver the news that he had made the cut.

"He was ecstatic, he couldn't believe it," said Maguire. "It goes to show what the jersey means to these players. He was quite blown away. He always has a bit of a joke about how he would love to get back in here and perform at the Kiwi level and as I said to him 'you do it on the park, and if you do that well, opportunities may come up'. And now it has.

Despite having 296 NRL games behind, Marshall has shown the capacity for ongoing improvement, especially with some of his performances for the Tigers this season.

"Benji has changed his game over the last 12 months," said Maguire. "He has been able to learn how to direct a game and follow plans and that sort of thing. [That's] not to say that he wasn't doing that before. But he is at a higher level now."

Maguire has also been impressed with Foran's dedication since his return to the NRL fold, after his struggles with injury and well documented problems off the field.

Maguire also confirmed that Marty Taupau's late withdrawal from the Kiwis' wider squad on Friday came out of the blue. The coach said he had been in regular contact with the Manly prop since the tour to England last year, but the 24-test Kiwi hadn't given any indication that he was mulling over a switch to Samoa.

"It's a decision he would like to make and I can understand why he has done it," said Maguire. "It's one of those things. You move on."

"We have been in that space before. At some stage it is going to happen. Obviously it will strengthen the international game but we just want players that are going to work really hard for this jersey."

Dallin Watene Zelezniak has been named as skipper, despite copping a nasty looking knock above the eye on Sunday night in the Bulldogs clash with the Roosters.

Maguire had no concerns over the injury, nor his mental readiness for battle after a tough 2019 season.

"He's come up well," said Maguire. "He's fine. He'll go through the protocol but he'll be fine. He's faced a bit of adversity over the last month but now he is settled and back playing footy I know he will be coming in ready to perform."

 

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