The trans-tasman rivalry in both rugby union and rugby league has been lopsided for the best part of history.
In New Zealand rugby union is religion, attracting the country’s best athletes from a young age who are raised on the code. In Australia, the NRL and rugby league holds the attention of Queensland and New South Wales while union barely gets a mention.
The conundrum has weakened the trans-tasman rivalry (in terms of the actual contest) in both codes. The great ‘what-if’ is if both countries’ number one code was the same.
With the NRL season coming to its ultimate grand final week, we propose a league team made up of All Blacks and try and answer sport’s most important question: could the All Blacks field a league team that would win the NRL?
1. Damian McKenzie
Has an electric running game that would prove an absolute handful from the back. Possesses playmaking skills that would give the boys a third ball-player on the edge. A few concerns about ability under the high ball and the number of bombs he would get.
2. Rieko Ioane
Lethal finisher with top-end speed, would probably bag 30 tries in a season. Would be too much to handle for most wingers in the NRL.
3. Anton Lienert-Brown
Great hands make Lienert-Brown a perfect fit to pair with Ioane on the left-hand edge. Could free the big speedster all day long when overlaps present.
4. Ngani Laumape
The bull-dozing midfielder makes the side as the right centre, having played 30 NRL games for the Warriors. Was mainly used a wing by the Warriors but has played here before. Obviously brings much-needed NRL experience.
5. Waisake Naholo
Have to give Naholo the nod here with the power game he offers the side. Nehe Milner-Skudder would be another strong candidate but he couldn’t crack the Bulldogs so is an unproven commodity in the NRL.
6. Beauden Barrett
Has the cross-field kick in the armory for the fifth tackle option so fits in nicely at 6. The pressure of game management taken off him and will have the freedom to take on the line more at second receiver.
7. Richie Mo’unga
Possesses a calm head and stability to drive the team around the park. His out-of-hand kicking has phenomenal range so the 40-20 is always on. Won’t hesitate to take a droppie if need be in golden point situations (or any late-game situations for that matter).
8. Akira Ioane
The side needs a damaging ball-carrier to truck it up. Although he hasn’t made his All Blacks debut yet, Ioane re-signed with the NZR this week so what better way to repay the faith by taking 20 hitups a game? He was a force off the back for the Blues and has a wide range of skills. Basically a fitter version of Andrew Fifita.
9. TJ Perenara
League rakes don’t need to have a clinical pass so Perenara gets the edge over Smith as he brings more of the ‘pest-factor’ to get under opposition skin. His bigger frame will hold up better than Smith over the demands of an NRL season.
10. Liam Squire
Just a big man with a dirty mullet that fits the bill as the second front-rower. Could probably churn out 60 minutes to take the pressure off Akira. Has great acceleration and speed, very versatile.
11. Ardie Savea
Dynamic second-rower with powerful leg drive. Can get through 20+ tackles a match as well as be a damaging edge ball runner. Can protect Barrett or McKenzie in the defensive line.
12. Sonny Bill Williams (C)
Picks himself really. Two-time premiership winner, international experience with the Kiwis. 118 games of NRL experience. Will lead from the front and knows what it takes to win a Premiership.
13. Sam Cane
Dominant tackling force that could rack up 50 a match easily. Fills a much-needed role packing down at lock.
Coach – John Kirwan (Couple of seasons with the Warriors plus over 10 years of coaching experience)
Assistant Coach – Frano Botica
So how does this team stack up?
The All Blacks finally figure out how to get all three 10’s on the field at once, making a statement to all other NRL teams. With the simplicity of league, the boys just need a bit of extra conditioning, but their superior skills could cause headaches. They will bring a new style of play to the NRL, like the Ipswich Jets, unafraid to pass to the edge and play footy from their own half instead of one-out runners.
Their culture of winning means nothing less will be expected.
Prediction – Win a Premiership within two seasons (to be safe).
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