Tropical test match means most to Sheens
There is something slightly sadistic about sending 18 players, at the tail end of a gruelling season, to train and then play in hot and humid Townsville for a week.
Such climes are not unusual destinations for NRL stars in October - the difference is they are more likely to be holding a cocktail around the pool than a football.
If Tim Sheens, then, has any trouble getting the Australian team ''up'' for Saturday week's one-off Test against New Zealand at Dairy Farmers Stadium, it should not surprise.
Whatever the case, though, you can be certain the Kangaroos coach will not be in holiday mode over the coming days. There may be a general absence of lustre about this blot on the calendar, there is no Four Nations tournament this year due to the World Cup in a year's time, but for Sheens what transpires in the tropical far north is of great importance.
Sacked by Wests Tigers a week ago, it is yet to be determined what day job, if any, he will have next year. That uncertainty makes the veteran mentor even more desperate to be in charge of Australia next year when they attempt to win the international game's biggest prize back from the Kiwis.
He is on a year-to-year contract with the national team, and while it would come as a shock if he were to be replaced win, lose or draw in Townsville, Sheens does not need to look far to be reminded that his present deal runs out imminently.
John Grant, the ARL Commission chairman, sat next to Sheens as he read out the Australian team in Sydney yesterday, and said a decision on next year's coach would be made in the off-season. There is no indication that Sheens is in any danger whatsoever, but he will feel exceedingly more comfortable should Cameron Smith's side put away New Zealand without drama on October 13.
''We've got a World Cup next year ... and we'd want to give the coach all the run in possible into that World Cup,'' Grant said. ''If the Test team performs and the coach performs, then it's really hard not to reward ongoing sustained performance, as it should be.''
It was for performance reasons that Sheens was removed last week as head coach of the Tigers, although there remains doubt about whether he will stay with the club in a senior role to avoid them having to pay him out $900,000 for the final two years of his contract.
Sheens, clad in his Australian polo shirt, is putting that issue on the backburner until after the Test match. ''Today I'm wearing this shirt, guys. This is all about Test football,'' he said.
He takes an 18-man squad to Townsville that contains few surprises, although there are several notable absentees due to injury or extended lay-offs.
Those not considered included Sam Thaiday, Anthony Watmough, Kurt Gidley, Ben Hannant, Matt Gillett, Justin Hodges, Brent Tate, Brett and Glenn Stewart, and Luke Lewis.
As a result, Melbourne's premiership-winning second-rower Ryan Hoffman won a first international call-up since 2009, Tony Williams was picked on the bench despite an average end to the season, while Tigers captain Robbie Farah was preferred to Canterbury's Josh Reynolds and the Storm's Ryan Hinchcliffe for the bench utility job.
Reynolds, who rocketed into the calculations after an outstanding season at five-eighth for the Bulldogs, is one of several shadow players on standby. ''We don't want too many going away to Hawaii just yet,'' Sheens said.
Meanwhile, New Zealand have won the tug-of-war with Queensland for the services of Sam Kasiano after the Canterbury prop was named in the Kiwis' squad.
The uncapped Kasiano, who had been courted by Queensland coach Mal Meninga, joins Manly's Dean Whare in the squad for the first time.
Big names to miss selection include Warriors winger Manu Vatuvei, Wests Tigers forward Adam Blair and Sydney Roosters enforcer Jared Waerea-Hargreaves.
Sydney Morning Herald