New Zealand halfback Shaun Johnson believes Benji Marshall deserved a recall for the Kiwis in Friday night’s rugby league Test against Australia.
Marshall was overlooked despite recent strong NRL form with St George Illawarra, with the Kiwis coaching staff keen to stick with the Four Nations-winning halves pairing of Johnson and Kieran Foran.
While Johnson said it felt good to have the faith of coach Stephen Kearney, he thought 30-year-old former Kiwis skipper Marshall had done enough to warrant a call-up for the Brisbane Test.
“Benji’s been playing some awesome footy and he probably did deserve a shot in the side,” Johnson said on Monday.
“But it’s not for me to decide.
“Obviously it’s awesome to know that they back me.
“I’m certainly going to grab the opportunity I’ve been given with both hands and look to really enjoy the week with the boys.”
Johnson’s recent form with the New Zealand Warriors has been questionable but Kearney said there was never any doubt over who he would pick to face off against returning Kangaroos star Johnathan Thurston, who is reunited with Cooper Cronk after missing the Four Nations.
“They’re a pretty handy pairing in any team, aren’t they?” Kearney said of Thurston and Cronk.
“Shaun and Kieran on their day are pretty handy too.
“We’ve put a lot of investment and energy into those two and if they were fit, they were always going to play for us.
“It makes for a wonderful challenge for us.”
The Kiwis suffered a huge blow on Saturday when Cowboys powerhouse Jason Taumololo, arguably the NRL’s most dominant forward this season, was ruled out with a knee injury.
However, there was still no room for Test stalwart Adam Blair, who has recovered from a badly corked thigh but did not do enough in his last two games for Brisbane to squeeze his way back into the side.
Kearney said Blair took the news of his exclusion well.
“It’s always a tough phone call to make,” he said.
“(But) that’s a positive for us as a Kiwi team, you’ve got to be playing your best footy to get a spot.
“The one thing I know about Adam and all the guys that have missed out – they’re disappointed and hurting and they want to be back here at the end of the year.
“I know they’ll do everything they can to get back.”