Nervous times ... Kangaroos coach Tim Sheens. Photo: Getty Images
There is something slightly sadistic about sending 18 players, at the tail end of a gruelling season, to train and then play in hot and humid Townsville for a week. Such climes are not unusual destinations for NRL stars in October - the difference is they are more likely to be holding a cocktail around the pool than a football.
If Tim Sheens, then, has any trouble getting the Australian team "up" for Saturday week's one-off Test against New Zealand at Dairy Farmers Stadium, it should not surprise.
Whatever the case, though, you can be certain the Kangaroos coach will not be in any way in holiday mode about the 11 days ahead. There may be a general absence of lustre about this blot on the calendar - there is no Four Nations tournament this year due to the World Cup in 12 months time - but for Sheens what transpires in the tropical far north is of great importance.
Sacked by Wests Tigers a week ago, it is yet to be determined what day job, if any, he will be in next year. That uncertainty makes the veteran mentor even more desperate to be in charge of Australia next year when they attempt to win the international game's biggest prize back from the Kiwis.
He is on a year-to-year contract with the national team, and while it would come as a shock if he were to be replaced win, lose or draw in Townsville, Sheens does not need to look far to be reminded that his present deal runs out imminently. John Grant, the Australian Rugby League Commission chairman, sat next to Sheens in reading out the Australian team in Sydney yesterday, and said a decision on next year's coach would be made in the off-season. There is every indication that Sheens is in no danger whatsoever, but he will feel exceedingly more comfortable should Cameron Smith's side put away New Zealand without drama on October 13.
"We've got a World Cup next year ... and we'd want to give the coach all the run in possible into that World Cup," Grant said. "If the Test team performs, and the coach performs, then it's really hard not to reward ongoing sustained performance, as it should be."
It was for performance reasons that Sheens was removed last week as head coach of the Tigers, although there remains doubt about whether he will stay with the club in a senior role to avoid them having to pay him out $900,000 for the final two years of his contract.
Sheens, clad in his Australian polo, is putting that issue on the backburner until after the Test match - "Today I'm wearing this shirt, guys. This is all about Test football" - and takes an 18-man squad to Townsville that contains few surprises although several notable absentees due to injury or extended lay-offs.
Those not considered included Sam Thaiday, Anthony Watmough, Kurt Gidley, Ben Hannant, Matt Gillett, Justin Hodges, Brent Tate, Brett and Glenn Stewart and Luke Lewis. As a result, Melbourne's premiership-winning second-rower Ryan Hoffman won a first international call-up since 2009, Tony Williams was picked on the bench despite an average end to the season, while Tigers captain Robbie Farah was preferred to Canterbury's Josh Reynolds and the Storm's Ryan Hinchcliffe for the bench utility job.
Reynolds, who rocketed into calculations after an outstanding season at five-eighth for the Bulldogs, is one of several shadow players on standby. "We don't want too many going away to Hawaii just yet," Sheens said.
Australia: Billy Slater, Darius Boyd, Greg Inglis, Josh Morris, Brett Morris, Johnathan Thurston, Cooper Cronk, Matt Scott, Cameron Smith (capt), James Tamou, Greg Bird, Paul Gallen, Nate Myles. Interchange: Robbie Farah, Ryan Hoffman, David Shillington, Tony Williams, Ben Te'o (18th man).
New Zealand (squad): Gerard Beale, Jesse Bromwich, Greg Eastwood, Kieran Foran, Josh Hoffman, Krisnan Inu, Shaun Johnson, Sam Kasiano, Issac Luke, Simon Mannering, Benji Marshall, Ben Matulino, Sam McKendry, Sam Perrett, Frank Pritchard, Kevin Proctor, Jeremy Smith, Elijah Taylor, Dean Whare.