New Zealand half-back Shaun Johnson has admitted he would prefer Saturday’s Four Nations opponents Australia to be at full strength, but insists they will be tough to beat regardless.
The Kangaroos have a raft of high profile players missing the Four Nations, including Billy Slater, Paul Gallen, the Morris brothers, and Golden Boot winner Johnathan Thurston. Dally M winner Jarryd Hayne is also missing after quitting Rugby League to try his hand at American Football.
Johnson, whom you may remember for scoring the match-winning try in the World Cup semi-final against England last year, said: “I think whoever gets named in whatever side is always going to lift their game that extra bit, it’s just the same with us, we have people coming in that I guess the media and public might question.
“But we know that they are going to get the job done, and I am guessing that’s the same for Australia.
“You would [rather play them at full strength], but that’s out of our control, isn’t it?
“We just have to look forward to who we are playing and it’s going to be a really tough task anyway.
“You do always want to compete against the best and Thurston is the best. It doesn’t mean that it’s going to be any easier for us though.”
The 24-year-old is also frustrated that the Kiwis’ first game of the tournament – in which they would have hoped to shake off any post-season cobwebs – is against the world champions.
“I think the real test for us is going to be with the ball in hand and timing, you just can’t help it, it’s just going to be a bit off,” he said.
“I had three weeks off during the season and came back and it just didn’t feel right. It is going to take a game to get that back, it just sort of sucks that it’s against Australia.”