''You don’t play meaningless Test matches'': Tim Sheens. Photo: Getty Images
Tim Sheens believes the all-conquering Australian team is not getting the recognition it deserves, admitting he would be ‘‘pretty disappointed’’ if a strong crowd did not turn out for Friday night’s Test against New Zealand at Allianz Stadium.
The Kangaroos coach on Wednesday hit back at suggestions the midyear international is becoming increasingly irrelevant, a theme that gathered steam when the Kiwis announced a team missing drawcards such as Sonny Bill Williams, Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, Issac Luke and Shaun Kenny-Dowall.
Underappreciated: Tim Sheens says the Kangaroos do not receive the recognition they deserve. Photo: Getty Images
Amid concerns the Test could attract one of the smallest crowds for an international in Sydney, Sheens’ World Cup winners are attempting to write their name into the history books.
With what would be a 16th straight Test victory, the Kangaroos would equal the mark set by Frank Stanton’s Invincibles between 1979 and 1983. It’s an achievement that should be celebrated, not used simply as evidence of the one-sided nature of the international game, Sheens argues.
‘‘I know everyone thinks their mum could coach this side and win, but it ain’t that easy," he said. "Test football, it ain’t that easy; you don’t play meaningless Test matches.
‘‘Just playing the game and being a chance to equal the Invincibles ... if Mal Meninga, Wally Lewis, Peter Sterling, that type of player turned up to play on Friday night you reckon people would come?
‘‘Here’s a team that’s as good and potentially better. If you don’t turn up for that it’d be pretty disappointing, given the tickets that they’re almost giving away.
‘‘[The record] is not going to really figure in the preparation, but it’s just things that this team has achieved and doesn’t get much credit for.’’
Stephen Kearney’s under-manned Kiwis have been widely written off, with Australia overwhelming favourites, and while Sheens understands the desire for an encounter that doesn’t blow out. it conflicts with his main objective.
‘‘I know people like to see Australia get beat occasionally for the good of the international game, but that doesn’t help me – I get sacked, and players go, too," he said.
‘‘You just want a good contest don’t you? This is a champion side and they’ve worked hard for where they’re at. They got a bit of recognition last year and the next World Cup is in Australia and I’d like to think people would support that.’’
Sheens is a fierce defender of the weekend break in the NRL premiership for representative matches for the dual purposes of giving many players a rest and representing their countries, or in the case of City-Country, auditioning for State of Origin.
The coach rejects claims the rep round is stalling the momentum finally gained in the NRL competition by the outstanding crowds that showed up on Anzac Day, where a total of 111,622 spectators attended the three matches on the public holiday in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane.
‘‘Ask the players who are having a rest,’’ Sheens said. "I tell you now every coach is giving them four days off.
‘‘It’s a third of the competition [played], and it’s very intense; a lot of injuries, a lot of bumps and bruises. It’s all right for everyone to say ‘keep going, we want to see more football’, but they’re really battling. So I think it’s a good thing for the comp to take a breather.’’
Kearney has named his 17 to face Australia and it includes Penrith’s Isaac John, who played NSW Cup for the Panthers last weekend, alongside Shaun Johnson in the halves.
Fellow debutant Ben Henry, of the Warriors, has been named at hooker.
New Zealand: Peta Hiku, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, Dean Whare, Gerard Beale, Jason Nightingale, Isaac John, Shaun Johnson, Jesse Bromwich, Ben Henry, Sam Moa, Simon Mannering (capt), Kevin Proctor, Adam Blair, Siliva Havili, Martin Taupau, Greg Eastwood, Tohu Harris, Kenny Bromwich (18th man).