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Wanted : 1 Standoff
Finding a halves partner for Stacey Jones is the most pressing concern for new Kiwis rugby league coach Daniel Anderson three weeks out from his maiden test in charge against world champions Australia.
With last year's incumbent standoff Lance Hohaia's form dipping so significantly he was dropped by the New Zealand Warriors to domestic Bartercard Cup play last month, Anderson admits it is the only position where New Zealand lack depth.
Hohaia played all six internationals last year, making his debut against Australia in Wellington, but he has only recently returned to first grade in the National Rugby League and is currently considered a bench player for the Warriors.
Utility Motu Tony is holding down the position now but is also a potential fullback.
"Standoff is definitely a position where no one has really put their hand up," Anderson said.
"Lance hasn't been in great form for the Warriors, Motu is doing OK. Stacey's at seven but there's not much else after that. There's depth in every position apart from the halves."
At the other end of the spectrum Anderson, also the Warriors coach, is spoilt for choice when he considers options in the pack, especially the back row, for the test at Aussie Stadium on July 25.
"Ten blokes could play second row - the two from Penrith (Tony Puletua and Joe Galuvao), Stephen Kearney, Ruben Wiki - I've got five here (at the Warriors) that are doing the job."
Anderson is not expected to deviate significantly from the Kiwis team who played Australia and toured Great Britain and France, although English-based players will not be flown south.
Bradford captain Robbie Paul may have been an exception as a potential standoff but an arm injury suffered last weekend has sidelined him for up to 10 weeks.
"Robbie's injury is unfortunate but in the back of my head I'm not confident of strong preparation for a bloke who gets there on a Tuesday night or Wednesday morning (before a Friday game)," Anderson said.
Anderson, assistant Tony Kemp and selector Brent Todd are thought to have settled on a squad, pencilling 25 names into the mix.
"Now it's just a matter of putting the jigsaw together and see who fits."
Anderson said it had not been difficult to juggle club and national commitments.
"I've got plenty of guys out there looking at players. I haven't had a drama at all. I do a lot of work in the hotel room, on the plane and at the back end of the week when the Warriors are pretty much settled and our strategy is organised."
Australia will miss second rowers, the suspended Ben Kennedy and the injured Craig Fitzgibbon, but Anderson did not expect the Kangaroos team to change much from the side who beat the Kiwis 32-24 in Wellington last year.
"They've lost a couple but the Australian selectors are pretty loyal. They don't give away the jersey so I doubt there'll be many changes."
Kangaroos and Cronulla counterpart Chris Anderson seemed to validate that view when he confirmed Brisbane and Queensland prop Shane Webcke would be a "cornerstone" of the test pack, despite an unsuccessful State of Origin series.
"Shane's been there for many years and is a proven performer. You've got to have faith in those guys."
Chris Anderson nominated Andrew Johns, Darren Lockyer and Gorden Tallis as other senior players whose positions were assured.