Veteran Australian forward Sam Thaiday believes the record number of Kangaroos rookies in the Four Nations squad are being schooled about the rigors of Test rugby league the hard way.
After a first-round loss to New Zealand, the Kangaroos have been left chasing their tail in the battle to qualify for next week’s tournament final as they attempt to keep a 60-year record of excellence alive.
A record 11 Test rookies were chosen in coach Tim Sheens’ 24-man squad for the four-week tournament.
The world champions blooded five rookies in Aaron Woods, Dylan Walker, Josh Mansour, Daniel Tupou and Aidan Guerra in a disappointing first-up effort against the Kiwis.
But after an improved performance in last week’s win over England, in which Ben Hunt, Sione Mata’utai and David Klemmer made their debuts, Thaiday says the Kangaroos rookies are learning what it takes to keep the green and gold spirit alive.
“I have been very lucky to be a part of a lot of successful teams when I was coming through and we have the chance to blood some new young players who are going to be the future of this Australian team, and now they are learning what it takes,” Thaiday told AAP.
“They have got the chance and opportunity because of injuries and we have to try and make sure that these guys know what Test football is all about and, against England, that tough win was the best lesson they can learn.
“It is all about hanging in there and playing tough footy and they are beginning to understand that.
“New Zealand was a tough loss to take.
“(But) They are beginning to understand that it is their responsibility to maintain that pride in the jersey and keep up the standards that we expect.
“These games have been a great lesson of that.
“It is up to us who have been there before to pass that on but also for them to take it up.”
Without the likes of regular first-choice players Billy Slater, Johnathan Thurston and Matt Scott due to injury, Australia face Samoa on Sunday in Wollongong.
It is a match they need to win to avoid missing the final of a major tournament for the first time since the inaugural world cup in 1954.
“We really ground out a win against England. Those one per centers were something we really struggled with against the Kiwis and that’s what we need to concentrate on against Samoa,” Thaiday said.
“They have been really good … they are a real threat.
“They probably should have beaten NZ and were really in the competition against the Poms.
“We definitely aren’t going to take them lightly.
“They have got some big blokes up front and we have to match that energy and enthusiasm they bring.”
New Zealand host England in the other final-round Four Nations clash on Saturday in Dunedin.
All four sides can qualify depending on the outcome and scorelines in each game.
FOUR NATIONS TABLE:
Team Played Won Lost For Against Difference Points
New Zealand 2 2 0 44 24 +20 4
England 2 1 1 44 42 +2 2
Australia 2 1 1 28 42 -14 2
Samoa 2 0 2 38 46 -8 0