A commanding presence in their own right, Kieran Foran and Benji Marshall tackle a familiar predicament as they re-establish a fleeting halves partnership against an opponent with the luxury of State of Origin to prime them for tomorrow's trans-Tasman test in Townsville.
The Manly five-eighth and New Zealand captain are playing catch-up for the first time this year while Cooper Cronk and Johnathan Thurston can approach their final assignment for 2012 with the security of having already combined four times this season.
Queensland's Origin duo also paired up in April's Anzac test at Eden Park - their Kiwi counterparts are starting afresh for the first time since last year's unsuccessful Four Nations campaign.
Foran, anointed as Marshall's fellow playmaker since the 2010 Anzac test in Melbourne, missed this year's fixture after straining a hamstring and watched on as Shaun Johnson made an impressive test debut.
Johnson's threat diminished as the Warriors season disintegrated and, as soon as Foran emerged unscathed from the Sea Eagles failed title defence, the 22-year-old was assured of reuniting with Marshall at Dairy Farmers Stadium and playing his eighth test.
They had their first training run in Cairns on Monday, precious little time to slip back in synch.
"It's bloody hard," Foran said. "These Aussie combinations play together all through the year. They play together at Origin. They don't have to change anything when they come together.
"Me and Benji get four sessions try to build a combination. It's incredibly hard but I am starting to feel that we are getting there. We have played alongside each other a few times now and things have gelled nicely.
"We're both dominant players in our club sides. It's about bringing that together in the Kiwis jersey and doing it out there."
The Kiwis have not won a one-off test against their neighbours since 2003 at North Harbour Stadium and, although they have become competitive in recent Anzac encounters, last year's end-of-season meeting in Newcastle resulted in a 42-6 hammering.
Ever the optimist, Foran believed the Kiwis had a line-up capable of avoiding a repeat of that mismatch as they field a mobile forward pack with plenty of offensive punch.
"I think we've picked a squad that can do them. I'm really impressed with the forward pack," he said of a unit including giant prop Sam Kasiano on debut - one of three Bulldogs in the starting pack.
"They can all play with the ball. They are big boys and they've all played together."
A staunch effort by the forwards allied with the kicking games of Foran and Marshall are obviously crucial if the Kiwis are to savour a rare triumph.
"The key for us is just keeping them down their end of the field," Foran said. "If we are making good metres and we can get a good kick at the end of the set and make them bring it out of yardage all game, it nullifies blokes like Thurston and (Billy) Slater."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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