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3 days ago
Coach Ricky Stuart says claims that his star-studded Australian backline for next week's Centenary Test is one of the greatest is not only premature but unwarranted.
Stuart has named a back contingent stacked with size, speed and skill for next Friday's clash with New Zealand at the SCG, prompting speculation that the Kiwis will be torn apart again.
Captain and five-eighth Darren Lockyer has already been acclaimed by some observers as among the best to ever wear the green and gold, his 36 Tests the second highest by any player behind Team of the Century centre Mal Meninga.
While his support crew may be blessed with enormous potential they remain relative newcomers to international football with the exception of NSW and Dragons centre Mark Gasnier (14 Tests).
Fullback Billy Slater will make his Test debut after 100 NRL games while his Storm teammate Israel Folau debuted last October as the youngest player to represent his country.
Halfback Johnathan Thurston (six), winger Greg Inglis (six) and centre Justin Hodges (five) complete a potent backline cast.
But Stuart says reputation alone does not warrant accolades and his team still need to prove themselves great on the international stage.
"It's very premature to label these players with some of the greats of the game," Stuart told AAP.
"Those kind of comparisons can only be warranted by performance, not by what names are on a team list.
"Let's hope it's justified by performances over the coming years for the players' sake and our standing in the game."
But Stuart's hotly-rated backline may suffer a late change next week with Brisbane star Hodges battling deep bone bruising in his right shoulder which forced him out of Saturday's NRL clash with Wests Tigers.
Hodges admitted he'd be "devastated" to miss such a significant Test celebrating rugby league's centenary year.
But Stuart promised he'd give the classy centre every opportunity to prove his fitness for the Test.
"I'll talk to Hodgo when he comes down but I know our medical staff have been in touch with Brisbane's medical people," said Stuart.
Hodges didn't travel to Sydney with the Broncos, preferring to stay home and receive daily physio on his shoulder before joining the Kangaroos in camp in Sydney on Sunday night.
"His desire to play is a great attitude," said Stuart.
"Obviously I'm very keen for Justin to play and if he can be right by kick off, that will do me.
"He's got a long season ahead of him too, so I also have to do the right thing by him for his welfare."
Hodges, who was a late withdrawal from Stuart's Test side last October with injury, is confident if given the time, he will be right to take on the Kiwis.
"It's getting better every day. The physio reckoned seven to 10 days, and it'll be 10 days when I go into camp," said Hodges.
Meanwhile Stuart was thrilled with the Rugby League International Federation's ruling in favour of New Zealand's application to have English clubs release their players for the Test.
The ruling has cleared the way for England-based Kiwi stars Thomas Leuluai and Brent Webb to play in next week's Centenary Test.
Their powerful Super League clubs, Wigan and Leeds, had opposed their release because of a conflict with their domestic Challenge Cup knockout event but they had a change of heart after being told they would be stood down for their club games if not released for the Test.
"It's great for the game because it shows international football is the pinnacle," said Stuart.
"It shows they're right behind Test football and it's success which is great."