Benji Marshall, Shaun Johnson get starts for New Zealand against Tonga in test


An international flame continued to burn for 34-year-old Marshall, whose mature form under Maguire at Wests Tigers has earned him a recall.

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A starting berth became a reality when Warriors five-eighth Kodi Nikorima (groin injury) was among a group of players trimmed from the Kiwis’ extended squad on Sunday night.

“About a week ago I spoke to Benji about the fact that he’s a potential (starter). In the last couple of days I spoke to him about the fact that he’s going to be playing,” Maguire said.

“Benji’s changed his game a little bit over the last 12 months I guess. He’s been really able to learn how to direct a game and follow plans.

“He’s at a higher level now, so I think Shaun will be able to play off the back of that.”

Maguire said Marshall was “blown away” when contacted, with the pair having previously joked about the prospect of a Kiwis recall whenever the subject arose between them on club duty.

Marshall would be a key leader against the imposing Tongans but Maguire said he never considered relieving Dallin Watene-Zelezniak of the captaincy.

Glory days: Benji Marshall celebrating a victory with the Kiwis in the 2008 World Cup final,Credit:Steve Christo

Watene-Zeleziak is expected to be cleared to start despite being forced from the field in his debut for the Bulldogs in their loss to the Roosters on Sunday.

The versatile back passed an HIA assessment and Maguire expects a big game from the 23-year-old, who didn’t play for four weeks after being granted a release by Penrith.

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“He’s faced a bit of adversity over the last month but I think now that he’s settled and back playing footy again it was great to see him running around,” Maguire said.

In the Tongan camp, injury has ruled Michael Jennings out of their side, while younger brother Robert Jennings has also been cut.

Former Kangaroos centre Michael Jennings isn’t in the group reduced from 22 to 19 on Monday after suffering a knee injury during Parramatta’s win over Brisbane on Saturday.

Coach Kristian Woolf said the 31-year-old would be missed as he was an influential figure in their charge to the 2017 World Cup semi-finals and in last year’s loss to the Kangaroos at the same Mt Smart Stadium venue to be used on Saturday.

“It is a shame to lose Michael because he has really been playing well for Parramatta,” Woolf said.

“But we have some quality centres in our squad in Solomone Kata and Kotoni Staggs, so I know we can fill the hole left by Michael’s injury.”

Younger brother and Wests Tigers outside back Robert Jennings won’t add to his solitary Test for Mate Ma’a Tonga after being omitted, along with uncapped Gold Coast prop Moeaki Fotuaika.

Three other uncapped players are still in line for debuts – Broncos centre Staggs, Roosters forward Sitili Tupouniua and Manly hooker Manase Fainu.

Tonga are bracing to be without Cronulla prop Andrew Fifita, whose hopes of playing rest at the NRL judiciary.

Fifita was charged with a crusher tackle on Canberra’s Ryan Sutton last Thursday and will miss two games, including the Test, if he accepts an early guilty plea.

AAP

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