By Adam Pengilly – Sydney Morning Herald
Newly-appointed New Zealand coach Michael Maguire insisted his first Kiwi squad will be desperate to back up for their NRL clubs after the historic Denver Test match against England, which he stressed will put “pride back in the jersey”.
Just days after the Rugby League Players Association, NRL and its clubs signed a letter saying they wouldn’t be compelled to release players for the mid-season fixture if it returned in 2019 and 2020, Maguire is hellbent picking players who will travel “anywhere” to represent their country.
Stars such as the Dragons’ Englishmen Gareth Widdop and James Graham could be asked to back up for their club just 48 hours after returning to Australia from the US, which will be played on the same weekend as the standalone State of Origin clash in Sydney.
But former Rabbitohs premiership-winning coach Maguire is confident every precaution has been taken to ensure players are able to back up.
“The players are going to be completely looked after,” Maguire said. “They’re flying over in business class and we’ve got some real quality staff that are working on their peak performance. A lot of them have worked at NRL clubs and we understand the expectations and what it takes to look after the players for this current game, right down to sleep patterns to best adjust.
“A Kiwi player should be striving [to back up for their NRL club]. They got there because of club football and the players around them and it’s about the respect you give back. I know there’s various turnarounds, but players will want to play for their club no matter what the circumstance.”
Maguire, who has taken over the Kiwis job from David Kidwell, has promised to ring some changes to the squad which was dumped from the World Cup in the quarter-finals by giant killers Fiji.
He’s watched with delight the impact young forwards James Fisher-Harris and Corey Harawira-Naera have had at the table-topping Panthers, but has also told veteran halves Benji Marshall and Kieran Foran where they sit in the Kiwi pecking order.
“Every single player I’ve spoken to has really shown quite a bit of emotion about wanting to play for that jersey” -Michael Maguire
“I have spoken to both of them,” Maguire said. “They’re aware of where they’re at and in the next week or so I’ll be selecting a team with the thought pattern of putting pride back in the jersey. Every single player I’ve spoken to has really shown quite a bit of emotion about wanting to play for that jersey.
“It goes to show international footy is really alive. We’ve got to realise it’s a Test match and kids grow up wanting to play in Test matches. People have mixed opinions about this game and where it’s being played, but it’s going ahead. I’m looking for players that want to put their hand up and say, ‘I want to play for New Zealand wherever it might be’.
“I have been [impressed with Marshall]. I think he’s shown a maturity around his game, he’s very experienced and he’s shown this year how to control a game and he’s added a lot to the Wests Tigers. He’s playing the game in a different space to where he’s been before. He’s exciting with his attack, but he also has a balance with when to do that as well.”
Maguire got the nod to resume his coaching career with New Zealand, topping a shortlist which included Des Hasler and Laurie Daley.