Don't count Warriors out of Kiwis - Freeman

DAVID LONG
Last updated 05:01 31/03/2013
Gary Freeman
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GARY FREEMAN: "Form is thrown out the door when you have players who know what to do when the occasion arises."

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Kiwis legend Gary Freeman says out of form Warriors players should still be picked for next month's Anzac test.

Selecting a team based on how all of the New Zealand-eligible players have gone so far this NRL season, it would be hard to make a case to pick any Warriors for the April 19 test in Canberra, including the team's captain Simon Mannering.

But Freeman, who played 45 games for the Kiwis and coached them in 2001-2, says poor performances for the Warriors will count for little when it comes to the players representing their countries.

"Form is thrown out the door when you have players who know what to do when the occasion arises," Freeman said.

"I have seen plenty of players when they've been picked for Australia, New Zealand or State of Origin and their [poor] form goes out of the door, because they know they're on the centre stage and they live up to those expectations.

"I love Ben Matulino, he is an absolute super star in the making and if he can grab hold of this Warriors team and lead by example they'll start winning games.

"Shaun Johnson has to go straight into the team also. When you play against the best it makes you play better, that's the way I look at it."

Mannering admitted last week that he hasn't been playing well and if it wasn't for the fact that coach Stephen Kearney made him the captain, his place would be in doubt for the Anzac test.

However, Freeman says he would have no hesitation in selecting Mannering.

"Simon is the first guy I'd pick," he said. "I have watched him over a number of seasons and I am a big fan."He covers so many positions and is the leader of the Warriors and Kiwis.

"There is no doubt in my mind that once he puts the jersey on he will lead by example and be one of the best Kiwi players on the field. I haven't got an issue saying that."

Of the players outside the Warriors who Freeman believes have been putting their hands up for selection, he puts Storm rookie Tohu Harris top of the list.

"Young Tohu is in his first year at senior grade and has been playing really well, there is an opportunity for him to get on the bench," he said.

"If you look at consistency, he has been one of our best forwards this season.

"If we are going to blood new players this is a great opportunity to put him up against the best in the game.

"The other guy who is playing his best football is Jared Waerea-Hargreaves. He is leading by example at the Roosters. He gave away a few penalties last year, but he's been playing tremendously well this season."

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As it is a World Cup year, there is the bigger picture to consider around the Anzac test and whether it should be used as part of the build up for that tournament. Freeman has a bob each way.

"It would be great to win a one-off test battle, I've been there and done that and I know how hard it is," he said.

"But Kearney will look at the young kids coming through and try to blood them with some experienced players.

"Yes, the World Cup is very important for the Kiwis and rugby league in general, but there is nothing better than beating Australia on their home soil."

- Sunday News

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