Talk of a Kangaroos succession plan won’t go away but Test captain Cameron Smith reckons few veterans will be following Justin Hodges’ lead and ending their representative careers any time soon.
All eyes were on 31-year-old Billy Slater when the 20-strong Test squad assembled in Brisbane on Monday after the Kangaroos fullback admitted he had no idea if he would pass a Tuesday fitness test on his shoulder for Friday night’s trans-Tasman showdown.
But the Kangaroos’ thoughts were also with Hodges after Test coach Tim Sheens appeared to kick off the first stage of his much talked about succession plan.
The 32-year-old Hodges’ 13-Test career is over after he confirmed on the weekend that he will retire from representative football at season’s end.
After being overlooked for Australia’s sole Test of 2015, Hodges will hope to make a representative swansong in this year’s State of Origin series for Queensland.
Smith – at 31, a year younger than Hodges – said he had not contemplated representative retirement as he prepares to become just the fifth player to captain Australia in 20 or more Tests.
“I think I speak for all the older guys in the team when I say as long as we are performing well at representative level and back that up at our clubs we can play as long as we can,” he said.
Despite Hodges’ absence, the third oldest Kangaroos squad has been named with a total of 264 Tests’ experience and averaging 15 Tests a player.
“There is going to be time where we are all going to have to finish off one way or another,” Smith said.
“But I don’t think anyone will be handing their jerseys over.”
Slater – 32 in June – said age should not be a factor.
“Succession plans may be discussed at the selection table but to be honest I think you should just pick the best players,” he said.
“Players who are playing the best football and have done the job in the past I think they are the ones who will get the nod.
“I don’t think age is a real issue.”
Smith said he felt for Hodges after Sheens opted for Melbourne rookie Will Chambers in the centres.
“That’s a hard one. I love having him in my representative team,” Smith said.
“He just hasn’t been on the park long enough unfortunately (due to hamstring complaint).”
Meanwhile, Slater said he would not hesitate pulling out of the squad if his shoulder did not feel right after Tuesday’s test.
He has missed Melbourne’s last three NRL games.
“Every chance I get to play for Australia I relish … but I am not going to be a liability,” he said.
Slater is one of 10 changes – including four debutants – to the squad since Australia’s Four Nations final loss to New Zealand.
Australia face the prospect of losing three straight Tests to the Kiwis for the first time since 1953.