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Can debutant provide spark against Aussies?

KIWIS coach Stephen Kearney is praying Test bolter Isaac John revives memories of one of New Zealand's greatest selection gambles in tonight's clash against the Kangaroos in Sydney.

That came when they plucked a chunky Olsen Filipaina from Sydney's lower grades to smash Australian superstar Wally Lewis in 1985.

The astute Graham Lowe was the architect behind playing Filipaina, who at the time was driving garbage trucks in Sydney and playing reserve grade.

While the Kangaroos won the opening Test at Lang Park, it was Filipaina, not Lewis, who was crowned man of the match.

The colourful Kiwi, who played more reserve grade than first grade for Balmain, Easts and North Sydney, played 29 Tests from 1978-86, and still loves to talk about the night he showed up The King in front of Brisbane fans. "Everything turned to gold for me that day," recalled Filipaina in an interview some years later.

"Australian commentators found it hard to comprehend how their legend had been so comprehensively outplayed by a 100kg wheelie bin-shaped Polynesian.

"But the answer was that I loved playing for New Zealand and the Australian jumper to me was like a red flag to a bull, it always brought out the best in me."

Kearney needs the black and white jumper to inspire the same emotions in 25-year-old John, who makes his debut in Filipaina-like circumstances against a player of Lewis's ilk in Johnathan Thurston at Allianz Stadium.

While two-time Golden Boot winner Thurston has won every individual trophy available, except a Clive Churchill grand final medal, John (pictured), a former Kiwi junior and Cook Island World Cup representative, has been picked from Penrith's reserve grade team in the absence of injured trio Kieran Foran, Thomas Leuluai and Josh Hoffman.

Criticism of Kearney's selections, and headlines like "who on earth is Siliva Havili" referring to the 21-year-old Warriors hooker who will also make his Test debut, are certain to fire up the new generation of Kiwis like they did Olsen Filipaina.


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