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Morgan-Thurston pairing a threat: Kiwis

NZ NewswireNZ Newswire 4/11/2016

Surprise at Cooper Cronk's omission from the Kangaroos has given way to the Kiwis' realisation they face an all-Cowboys halves threat in the Four Nations.

Melbourne Storm halfback Cronk was the notable omission from Saturday's second-round Test in Coventry, with world-class playmaker Johnathan Thurston shifted in one spot.

Michael Morgan is promoted to start at stand-off, which initially caught the Kiwis management and senior players off guard.

All had assumed Sharks No.6 James Maloney would be next cab off the rank following a bright display in Australia's tournament-opening rout of Scotland.

However, assistant coach Willie Poching admits Morgan - whose representative career has mostly comprised interchange appearances - is an instant threat because of his North Queensland club combination with Thurston in the NRL.

"While he's played a lot of his rep footy off the bench and been used in that utility role, he's a starter and he's Johnathan Thurston's partner week in-week out so there's some sense in that," Poching said.

"Whether it's disruptive to them, I'm not too sure. I'm sure he'll handle it, he's a quality player."

Poching said most of the Kiwis' preparation had been inward-looking as they strive for a performance vastly better than the 26-6 loss to the Kangaroos in Perth last month.

Last week's 17-16 win over England was a fillip for the players, whose commitment to the cause couldn't be faulted, Poching said.

"They needed to see some fruits for all the hard work they've been putting in.

"We've grown since the Test in Perth. We've got a little bit of our identity back, if you like."

Poching said the game plan would be similar to what they employed in Perth but the attitude and execution would be better.

He said they'd "introduced a little bit more to our armoury".

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