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Preview: Kiwis vs Bravehearts

Max McKinney, Rugby League World Cup Correspondent, rlwc2017.com

Christchurch Stadium signage 171104NH20

Taylor has faced a roller coaster ride since his last Test appearance at the 2013 World Cup, cruelled by a knee reconstruction which had a debilitating effect on his form and eventually resulted in a change of clubs from Penrith to West Tigers.

Once there, consistent football allowed the 27-year-old to return to his best and he comes back into the Kiwi’s squad as the recipient of the Kelly-Barnes Medal for the Wests Tigers player of the year.  “The last few weeks have been humbling,” Taylor said.

“It’s been awesome to get back into the Kiwi environment. To get that opportunity to come back and work with the brothers again, and work with some great coaches, I’ve really enjoyed the experience.”

New Zealand coach David Kidwell has rang in the changes for the Kiwi’s second game, replacing seven players from the 17 who played in their 30-point win over Samoa.

Across the backline, Dean Whare, Peta Hiku and Jason Nightingale all step in; while up front, Kenny Bromwich will get a start and Taylor finds himself at hooker.

“I played hooker during my under 20s career, a few times at the warriors and panthers, and this year at the tigers I played nine some of the time,” Taylor said of his selection.

“Whenever I come into the Kiwi environment, I’m always a utility, so for the last two months I’ve been practicing at dummy-half, backrow and lock.”

Taylor isn’t the only Kiwi getting their first RLWC2017 introduction and the three starters in the backline will help Kidwell decide who replaces Gerard Beale in the games to come after he underwent surgery on Sunday on a broken ankle suffered in the opening game.

Te Maire Martin helped take North Queensland Cowboys to the NRL Grand Final just over a month ago, and he will get to extend his bright year when he steps in at five-eighth for just his second national Test cap.

How well Martin combines with Shaun Johnson could provide New Zealand with multiple options to consider for the remainder of the tournament - given Kodi Nikorima’s quality showing against Samoa and veteran Thomas Leuluai’s experience in the halves.

Temperatures in Cairns during Scotland’s 50-4 loss to Tonga hit the mid-30s, so the Scots’ might feel more at home on Saturday night in Christchurch, where it should be at least ten degrees cooler come the 5pm kick-off. 

Scotland held New Zealand to an 18-all draw in the 2016 Four Nations and the result hasn’t been lost on Kiwi’s enforcer Jared Waerea-Hargreaves.

“I was there on tour last year; super disappointing,” he said. “You can’t underestimate a Scottish side because they are so passionate.

“We watched a bit of footage of them this morning and they’re eager, they’re going to be keen.

“Obviously with a performance like last week, they’re going to come out and start hard.”

Scotland did well to limit the damage in the second half last week against Tonga, but they’ll be looking to repair their damaged pride against a Kiwi’s side which feels completely revitalised again after they rolled out a new-look team in week one.

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