When Kieran Foran steps into the firing line as the Kiwis' virtual field marshal on Canberra Stadium in tomorrow night's Anzac Test, he hopes to have inspirational words from New Zealand war hero Willie Apiata VC ringing in his ears.
The Kiwis five-eighth is anxious to seek out the the Victoria Cross-holder at a special dinner tonight, and look for advice, insight and any words of wisdom the former Special Air Services soldier might be willing to impart as he contemplated the biggest challenge of his test career.
Apiata and five Australian recipients of Victoria Cross and a George Cross were guests of honour with both teams at a function in Parliament House last night - and the publicly reticent 40-year-old Apiata will dine with the Kiwis tonight before presenting their test jerseys.
Foran's ninth test is also his first as the Kiwis senior playmaker and although a trans-Tasman test obviously has no correlation to an actual battle, the Manly Sea Eagles star was looking forward to meeting Apiata in the sanctuary of the team environment.
"I'm always interested in blokes like that, that are so honoured," he said.
"I think as players we're honoured to be round their sort of company. What they've been able to do is incredible."
Foran was 14 when Lance Corporal Apiata, according to his citation, showed total disregard for his own safety in Afghanistan by carrying a wounded comrade across 70 metres of broken, rocky ground swept by enemy fire, while "fully exposed in the glare of battle" in 2004.
Benji Marshall's successor as the Kiwis' playmaker only knew vague details of Apiata's exploits but realised he was in esteemed company last night.
"Nothing more needs to be said when you've got a medal like that," Foran said.
"I'd love to sit down for an hour with him and ask him what it's like in the heat of the battle, what it's like to be under the pressure they're under at that moment and how they lead in those circumstances.
"You would certainly take it on board and listen."
Foran has also spent this week in the Australian capital discussing tactics with new halves partner Shaun Johnson after the New Zealand Warriors playmaker was selected to replace an injured Marshall in the halves.
Johnson has barely been able to train with the squad since suffering a bruised knee and quad strain during the Warriors' loss at the Raiders on Saturday night but they have been able to talk things through.
"Although he hasn't been able to do too much training we've been rooming together," Foran said.
"We've had a lot of time to talk about how we want to play together."
Still, he can't expect to replicate the understanding he has at Manly with halfback Daly Cherry-Evans, an intuitive relationship developed over hours on the training field and at Brookvale Oval.
"It's not ideal," he said of a typically compressed test build-up.
"You only get a few ball-work sessions to try and strike up a combination with blokes that you're not used to playing with."
Foran looked at the Kangaroos halves combination of Cooper Cronk and Johnathan Thurston with a degree of envy given they also have the benefit of State of Origin to get, and stay, in synch.
However, Foran didn't obsess over one of the Kangaroos' clear advantages tomorrow night.
"In games like this when you've got short preparation, you just focus solely on yourself and your own team," he said.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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