Kiwis vs Kangaroos: Time for Shaun Johnson to dominate without legends

Kiwis legend Stacey Jones has put the heat on Shaun Johnson to show all his class against Australia in Auckland on Saturday.

The trans-Tasman rivals face off at the start of a new era, with both teams taking the field without many of the players that have dominated the international game over the past decade.

The Kangroos are without retired stars Jonathan Thurston, Cam Smith and Billy Slater, injured Cooper Cronk and suspended Greg Inglis. The Kiwis have lost retired veteran Simon Mannering, injured Issac Luke and Roger Tuivasa-Sheck.

New Zealand will be led for the first time by 23-year-old Dallin Watene-Zelezniak.

The stage is set for Johnson to stamp his authority on this contest and Jones - probably the greatest half to pull on the white-V - insists the time is right.

But he can't do it alone.

"He's at a stage now where he's pretty experienced, in his late 20s, and we really need Shaun to put his hand up and fire," the Kiwis assistant coach told Trackside Radio.

"But we need Kodi [Nikorima] to take pressure off him, we need Brandon Smith at dummy half to give good service and we need our big boys to give him some good, quick play-the-ball.

"I think Shaun's got a good grasp of what he needs to go, he's just got to do it at a consistent level."

Johnson, 28, has excelled at this level before. His performances under former coach Stephen Kearney helped the Kiwis to three consecutive wins over Australia, en route to success at the 2014 Four Nations and 2015 Anzac Test.

His starring role in those victories saw him awarded the 2015 Golden Boot.

But those accomplishments set a very high bar of expectation for Johnson, one he has struggled to reach with any regularity.

"I thought, at the Warriors this year, he played some really good football," said Jones, who assists Kearney at the Auckland-based NRL club.  

"He copped a lot of flak in our last game - in the semi-final - when the pressure was on him and he needed to stand up.

"But if the players around him aren't doing their job, that makes it a lot harder for Shaun.

The selection of Watene-Zelzniak as captain caught many by surprise this week, but Jones insisted he ticked the boxes required of the skipper.

"The key from captaincy is you've got to be a real professional and from what I've seen of Dallin, he is. It'll be his actions that will speak for him.

"He's also got a core experienced players around him - Shaun's there, Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, Jesse Bromwich and Adam Blair. We've got good leadership around him and they'll point him in the right direction.

"His form at the moment is really good and that's key in a leader."


Join us at 7:30pm Saturday for live updates of the NZ Kiwis vs Australia rugby league test from Mt Smart Stadium.