Life after Justin Hodges will begin for a rookie Kangaroos backline in Friday night’s trans-Tasman Test – much to Michael Jennings’ surprise.
“Has he stepped down from Tests? There you go,” Jennings asked.
But there is one thing the late Kangaroos call-up does know – their backs will be tested thanks to the return of his Sydney Roosters teammate Roger Tuivasa-Sheck.
Jennings was genuinely surprised when told that Hodges would not play another Test after the veteran centre announced he would retire from rep footy at year’s end.
“I didn’t know that,” he said of the Broncos captain who did not taste defeat in any of his 13 Tests.
However, Jennings did not have to be reminded of the Kiwi threat that loomed for a new-look Kangaroos featuring three debutant backs – wingers Alex Johnston, Josh Dugan and fellow centre Will Chambers.
Tuivasa-Sheck missed out on New Zealand’s Four Nations triumph but earns a recall thanks to his sizzling form since taking over Roosters legend Anthony Minichiello’s fullback reins.
Not that Jennings had to be told.
“It’s a pleasure playing alongside him – he’s a dynamic player,” he said.
“He’s going to be a big threat for them – we have a big job ahead of us.
“But at club level it benefits me knowing how he plays – I will see if he gives me a bit of trash talk.”
Jennings’ will provide some much needed experience to Australia’s backs without Hodges.
Melbourne star Chambers slots in for the overlooked Hodges while Jennings only got a nod thanks to a reshuffle following the withdrawal of fullback Billy Slater (shoulder).
Excluding halves, New Zealand’s backline has played 76 Tests compared to Australia’s 43 – 33 belonging to fullback Greg Inglis alone.
Jennings admitted Hodges’ absence left a big hole.
“Hodgo has been been playing Test footy for a while,” he said.
“He was a champion fella and showed me the ropes of how things were done in the Roos camp (in 2009).”
But Jennings may also be forgiven for enjoying seeing the back of Hodges – on the football field at least.
“I have had some battles with him,” the NSW strike weapon said of the wily Queensland veteran.
“He stepped me a few times to score. And you wouldn’t think he is that strong when you look at him but he’s deceiving and so good on his feet.
“He’s got a few (heckles) as well. That’s just part of his game.
“But you always want to play against the best and better yourself.”
Still, Jennings backed the new-look backline to help end Australia’s two-game losing run against New Zealand.
“I have no doubt they will get the job done,” he said.