NRL keen to know value of longer season


Winging it
Kieran Foran has only played two test matches for New Zealand. He's only 20 and has yet to play 50 first-grade games. But despite all that, New Zealand are convinced he will be their long-term halfback.

And he can be the key to them finally winning an Anzac rugby league test on Australian soil tonight.
Where once Australia's defensive game plan was, in essence, to stop Benji Marshall, no longer can they stack their right-side defence without worrying about what the bleach-blond kid on the other side is doing.
"They would overcompensate because we only had one point of attack," says Marshall. "But now, if they put an extra guy on me, it will open it up for him. And if they try to pressure Kieran, the ball comes to me. We've not had that in the past."
Coach Stephen Kearney, rarely given to grand statements, says: "Benji and Kieran are some of the best players in the competition, if not the best. It's a big part of it for us, having Kieran back in the team. It provides a different mentality to the way we play. There's a real threat with what he can do and bring to the team."
Even the bloke displaced at halfback by Foran, Kiwi hooker Nathan Fien, is effusive: "To be doing what he's doing for Manly already, week in, week out, is an indication that he's going to be one of the superstars of our game."
For two years Foran has led youthful Manly halfback pairings, first with another teen, Trent Hodkinson, then after Hodkinson defected to the Bulldogs, with the untried Daly Cherry-Evans.
"Young halves generally come into first grade with a more experienced one, but I think this is growing my game quicker," says Foran, who talks with the air of a much older man.
"I think if I had an experienced half out there, I wouldn't have to take that responsibility on my shoulders. It's making me go to the next level. But people sometimes forget I've only played 40-odd games."
FORAN says that many people are often stunned that Manly coach Des Hasler, who bears a reputation for holding back juniors until he's convinced they are ready for first grade, has shown such enormous faith in him.
It has been repaid. Foran works tremendously hard on his game; this year, it's meant hours in the video room, studying other halfbacks, and a preseason working closely with Andrew Johns.
There's probably just one aspect of his game left that some want him to change: his defence.

Kearney reckons Foran is a "victim of his own toughness" and believes he will eventually play with a more "efficient and effective" style. Put simply, he likes to belt frontrowers whenever he can.
Foran grins broadly when the topic is raised. "People try to remind me I am a halfback, I weigh 87kg, what the hell am I doing trying to come out of the line and whack frontrowers?"
His answer is that in tight games where he can't create something special with the ball, he tries to inspire them with his defence instead. "I love the physicality of rugby league, it doesn't scare me, I'm not afraid," he offers.
And he's ready to belt some Aussies too. "It's something I will look to do Friday night," he says. "Test footy is going to be physical, it's something I want to do for the Kiwi boys if I get the opportunity."
The kid who emigrated from Auckland at nine, but says his heroes were Ruben Wiki and Stacey Jones, can "absolutely" wear New Zealand's No 7 jersey for years to come, says Marshall.
Foran, more measured, says: "I want to step into the role and build a combination for years to come. Hopefully this is a starting point. It's one step at a time ... but I'd like to make that spot mine."

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