* required fields
By Australian Associated Press
Keven Mealamu disputes suggestions there is a gulf in class between the two best rugby hookers in New Zealand and the rest.
The veteran All Blacks rake and long-time rival Andrew Hore are braced to once again contest the hooking berth when the Rugby Championship kicks off this month.
There is unlikely to be a third hooker in the squad named on Sunday, raising further questions about a lack of depth in the specialist position.
Mealamu agreed he and Hore, both 33, had the advantage of Test hardness, which is why the All Blacks selectors had turned to them again this year.
"We've been the combo for a while now. We've definitely got people who can get into the role, it's just a matter of experience," Mealamu told NZ Newswire.
"When you're playing against some tough nations, you're always calling on that experience."
Hawke's Bay hooker Hika Elliot, 26, has played three Tests but remains a fringe option. Elliot can't get a starting spot for his Chiefs Super Rugby franchise ahead of Samoa international Mahonri Schwalger.
Uncapped Wellington and Hurricanes rake Dane Coles, 25, was called into the two-day All Blacks wider squad camp which finished in Wellington on Thursday but he admitted he'd need to bide his time.
"I'd love to be here fulltime, that's my dream," Coles said.
"I'll definitely target the end of year tour. I just need to have a good ITM Cup and hopefully things go my way."
Coles believed consistent game time and his dynamic ability with the ball had got him noticed this year.
However, lineout throwing remained an area in need of work.
"I can't let it get me down too much because that's a hooker's job. If you can't throw, you can't be an All Black."
Meanwhile, Mealamu said it remained a goal to become the third player to play 100 Tests for the All Blacks after Richie McCaw and Mils Muliaina.
He sits on 93 caps, which is third most for any international hooker.
The leaders on 96 are Springbok John Smit and Frenchman Raphael Ibanez. Both of those players played additional tests at prop.
The latest Australian Rugby news delivered to your inbox each week. Subscribe now to Rugby HQ.
Suburb or Town