League test teams meet the real Anzac heroes

CHRIS BARCLAY
Last updated 05:00 19/04/2013
Cameron Smith
JEFFREY CHAN/CANBERRA TIMES

Cameron Smith and Simon Mannering looking at names on the Roll of Honor at the Australian War Memorial

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This year's Anzac test resembles a phoney war before trans-Tasman rugby league hostilities resume at the World Cup in the UK, Ireland and France in October. 

However, embracing Victoria Cross winners from Australia and New Zealand has undeniably enhanced the occasion.

Staging the traditional early season international in the Australian capital tonight - primarily to celebrate Canberra's centenary - also provided a timely reminder of the significance of the 'Anzac' tag associated with the fixture.

The coaches and captains of both teams held their pre-test press conference at the austere Australian War Memorial yesterday after sharing a reflective moment at Poppy Wall - a memorial engraved with the names of fallen Australian armed forces personnel.

Kiwis captain Simon Mannering and Kangaroos counterpart Cameron Smith were speechless as the circumstances of some of the deaths were outlined by Memorial staff.

Later the entire Kangaroos squad toured the facility, many for the first time.

Both teams also attended a charity function at Parliament House on Wednesday night where they were guests of honour alongside New Zealand war hero Willie Apiata VC, Australian VC recipients Keith Payne, Ben Roberts-Smith, Daniel Keighran, Mark Donaldson and George Cross winner Michael Pratt.

"It's been pretty special," Mannering said.

Apiata also joined the Kiwis for dinner last night - he requested puha and pork bones - and presented the test jumpers.

"We've known about Willie for quite some time and we've been trying to get into the camp for a number of years," Kiwis coach Stephen Kearney said.

"One thing that certainly strikes me about Willie is he's a very humble lad which really resonates with the group.

"He's got a wonderful story to tell, he's got a great history, his grandfather went to Gallipoli."

Roberts-Smith also dined with the Kangaroos last night with Smith saying they had already absorbed an important lesson from the VC winners on Wednesday night.

"The clear message from those guys was you never let your teammate down," he said, before putting tonight's game into perspective.

"I know a lot of people talk about rugby league players going to battle but compared to what they do it's very miniscule."

Fullback Billy Slater concurred, saying: "We play a game of football and that's exactly what it is, a game of football. Representing the Anzacs that fought before us and those that continue to fight ... it makes a test match a lot more special when you're representing those people."

Meanwhile, experiencing the Anzac legend from close quarters for the first time prompted Smith to launch a strident defence of the annual clash.

"It has its critics with its timing, we're only six rounds into the (NRL) competition and it's before the State of Origin, but I believe there's no better time to play it than around Anzac Day," Smith said.

"Representing your country is not a burden, it's always a privilege."

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- Fairfax Media

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