Issac Luke set to be marked man in Anzac test
The big names are missing in action yet even if Benji Marshall and Sonny Bill Williams were available for tonight's Anzac test, the Kiwi with the smallest stature is still the game-breaker the Kangaroos fear the most.
Diminutive dummy-half Issac Luke is the marked man, a concession Kangaroos coach Tim Sheens and captain Cameron Smith made no attempt to camouflage before both sides completed their preparations at Canberra Stadium.
While Marshall and Williams have unorthodoxy embedded into their games - a quality hard to defend against - the no-frills South Sydney hooker from Hawera has proven just as difficult to contain in recent trans-Tasman tests.
Luke embarrassed the Kangaroos meticulous planning in last year's Anzac test on Eden Park and again six months later in Townsville when he sniped out of play the ball to score close range tries.
The Kangaroos eventually won both tests to extend their current winning sequence to five over their neighbours but Luke's incisive darts irritate to such an extent the Australian selection panel custom-made their squad to blunt his effectiveness.
Rather than risk the having the 20-test dynamo outfox cumbersome defenders in the middle of the park, Sheens has opted with a mobile pack featuring just two specialist props - adopted Aussie James Tamou and his North Queensland teammate Matt Scott.
Backrowers Sam Thaiday and Paul Gallen will step forward when Tamou and Scott require a spell, with their superior agility seen as crucial in the plan to prevent Luke running amok.
"He scored a try in both games last year from short range at dummy-half. Both times before the game we prepared not to let him do that, and yet he did," Sheens said.
He feared Luke would be even more potent now the NRL clamp down on delaying tactics at the play-the-ball extends to the international arena.
"Under the interpretation this year with no hands on the ball, no slowing the ruck down I can see it being a quicker game and he [Luke] just becomes more dangerous on that basis."
Luke arguably fits the mould of archetypal Anzac warrior, a combative individual punching above his weight (89kg) against seemingly insurmountable odds - TAB Sportbet quotes the Kangaroos as $A1.12 favourites and the World Cup holders at $A6.50.
He fronted a pre-match press pack in a typically understated way, as if oblivious to target he sports on the back of the No 9 jersey.
"I don't know, I haven't really thought about it," he said, as if just being roused from a nap.
"I can't really be worried about what's coming at me, I just think about what I can do to help the team."
Lasting 80 minutes appears the most beneficial contribution the 25-year-old could make, although Sheens is also wary of the dangers posed by outside backs Sam Perrett, Jason Nightingale and Josh Hoffman when they probe out of dummy half .
Sheens also believed the untried halves combination of Kieran Foran and Shaun Johnson could also be problematic despite them never having played together.
They were barely able to train in tandem since the squad assembled in Canberra either as Johnson managed knee and quad injuries - although he ran at the final session yesterday to confirm his fitness.
"Foran comes to the line and plays that short side really well and Johnson will cut you to pieces if you're back pedalling.
"Shaun's reminded us a few times of the ability he has to grab you with something special," Sheens said, recalling the 22-year-old's intercept try on debut at Eden Park.
Meanwhile, Kiwis coach Stephen Kearney also knows where the attacks are coming from and there is no respite with Kangaroos injury-free, unencumbered by suspension and again benefiting from the spine of the Queensland State of Origin side.
Complacency, yet again, seems their greatest enemy.