Queensland State of Origin halves Darren Lockyer and Johnathan Thurston have been reunited in the Kangaroos’ team for Saturday night’s Tri-Nations opener against New Zealand in Auckland.
Australian coach Ricky Stuart had kept everyone guessing in the lead-up to his announcement of the team, indicating that he was having trouble splitting Cowboys number seven Thurston and St George Illawarra’s Ben Hornby for the role.
But while Hornby was in great form in the final weeks of the season at fullback for the Dragons, he was unable to win the nod ahead of Thurston, whose own end to the 2006 NRL campaign was hampered by a knee injury.
NRL premiers the Brisbane Broncos have four players in the starting XIII, with Karmichael Hunt named at fullback and Justin Hodges (centre), captain Lockyer (five-eighth) and prop Petero Civoniceva also chosen.
Broncos Grand Final hero Shaun Berrigan was named on the bench, while runners-up the Melbourne Storm also have three representatives.
Matt King takes his place on one wing, with exciting teenager Greg Inglis on the other – even though both played in the centres for the Storm’s finals campaign – while Cameron Smith has shrugged off injury and will take his place at hooker.
Smith had been in doubt for the game after suffering a shoulder injury in the NRL decider but has shrugged off that ailment to take the number nine jersey vacated by Danny Buderus, who had already planned to miss the tournament before copping a lengthy ban late in the season.
Hodges is partnered in the centres by Dragons star Mark Gasnier, while Bulldog Willie Mason has also been chosen in the forwards, with Luke O’Donnell of the Cowboys and Parramatta’s Nathan Hindmarsh in the second row and Mason’s team-mate Reni Maitua at lock.
As well as Berrigan, Stuart also chose Bulldogs pair Mark O’Meley and Andrew Ryan and Manly’s Brent Kite as his three other reserves.
Australia squad: Karmichael Hunt, Matt King, Mask Gasnier, Justin Hodges, Greg Inglis, Darren Lockyer, Johnathan Thurston, Willie Mason, Cameron Smith, Petero Civoniceva, Luke O’Donnell, Nathan Hindmarsh, Reni Maitua
Reserves: Mark O’Meley, Shaun Berrigan, Andrew Ryan, Brent Kite.