Johnathan Thurston of the Kangaroos looks to pass the ball against the Kiwis.
Johnathan Thurston of the Kangaroos looks to pass the ball against the Kiwis. DAN HIMBRECHTS

Mal keeps Kiwis guessing over halves combination

RUGBY LEAGUE: Kangaroos coach Mal Meninga is keeping his cards close to his chest over who will partner Johnathan Thurston in the halves for tomorrow morning's Four Nations clash with New Zealand in Coventry.

After deciding to rest Cooper Cronk, Meninga will choose between Thurston's North Queensland Cowboys teammate Michael Morgan or the Sharks' James Maloney, who had a solid debut for his country last week against Scotland.

It's a good problem to have but Meninga wasn't giving too much away when he named a 19-man squad for the crucial clash at Ricoh Arena.

"We're just doing a rotation,” Meninga told reporters.

"We rested Johnathan last week, so we thought it was in our best interests to keep the squad as fresh as we possibly can.

"Cooper finished the year in the grand final and has played twice in recent weeks, so we thought the rotation was for the best.

"Now it's just a matter of seeing who starts and who sits on the bench.

"Michael Morgan has been on the bench for all our Test matches this year, so we're thinking about starting him - to give him more game time - and having Jimmy (Maloney) come on some time through the game.

"Or we might start Jimmy to maintain our bench utility role with Michael, who can play anywhere on the footy field.”

Greg Inglis, Matt Scott, Boyd Cordner and Matt Gillett will all return to face the Kiwis after missing the 42-point win over the Scots in the Four Nations opener.

Meninga also confirmed that Josh Dugan, who suffered a concussion in that game, would be on the sidelines as he looked to put out his best-possible 17.

"We are paying the Kiwis the respect they deserve by having Greg Inglis back in our team as well as having Boyd Cordner and Matt Gillett in our back row,” he said.

"The Kiwis will have a lot more cohesion and they'll be riding high from their close win last weekend.

"Their confidence will be up so we'll have to be on our game to be successful.”

The winner of this match will ensure its place in the Four Nations final at Anfield in Liverpool on November 20.

New Zealand coach David Kidwell has been forced into two changes, with an ankle injury ruling out winger Jason Nightingale and enforcer Jared Waerea-Hargreaves to miss out with a knee problem.

Gerard Beale from Cronulla will come in on the wing while Bulldogs veteran Greg Eastwood will start from the bench, with Broncos forward Adam Blair now in the starting line-up.

"It's tough losing players of Nighty's (Nightingale) and Jared's talent and experience,” Kidwell said.

"We are fortunate to have quality reinforcements who understand what international football is all about.”

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