Given
the debate that has raged for weeks, the selection last night of the Kangaroos
team for the test match against the Kiwis on Friday night is an anti-climax … and
a risk.

The
national sectors have once again opted for loyalty above form. The team is
basically the same one that lost the tri-nations series to the kiwis last
November – the only new test player is the Cowboys Johnathan Thurston.

The
players who missed the tri-nations final due to injury – Darren Lockyer, Andrew
Johns, Tiumana Tahu and Nathan Hindmarsh – have been reinstated. But apart from
that the selectors have gone down the path they have trodden for decades: it’s
loyalty that counts above all else.

This
may be a risky strategy, given the dominance of the Kiwis in the tri-nations
final, and the 24 point losing margin in the final was equal to the Kangaroos
worst ever defeat.

Perhaps
it was all the coaches fault? Wayne Bennett fell on his sword soon after the
Kangaroos returned from their inglorious loss. But ten of the players who were
in the losing team have been retained, even though some have been in less than
convincing form so far this year.

One
wonders why the Australian Rugby League bothered spending some of its not
unlimited funds sending the four selectors to premiership matches in the lead
up to the selection of the team yesterday.

The
case for Thurston’s inclusion was overwhelming, but he has only made the
interchange bench. He will grab whatever opportunity he gets for seldom has a
player been more passionate, even desperate, about representing his country.

On
Friday night, the pride of Australian rugby league will be on the line – the
thumping loss in the tri-nations series (the first series loss since 1978) was
a stinging result. On Friday it will be more than the pride of the Kangaroos
will be on the line – the credibility of the national selectors will be there
as well.

Peter Fray

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