New Zealand Rugby League (NZRL) has named a 25-man wider squad to travel home to Aotearoa to face Pacific rivals Mate Ma’a Tonga at Mt Smart Stadium on June 25.
Eight of the squad are potential Kiwi debutants, including Ellerslie Eagles junior Ronaldo Mulitalo (Cronulla Sutherland) who leads the NRL with 20 line-breaks and Eels playmaker Dylan Brown who has six tries, seven try assists, five line break assists, nine line breaks and 46 tackle breaks in 13 games this season.
Other new faces are Panthers duo Moses Leota and Scott Sorensen, both instrumental in Penrith’s dominance over the last three seasons. Vodafone Warriors-bound Parramatta back rower Marata Niukore joins the fray, as does Gold Coast hooker Erin Clark.
Former Junior Kiwi teammates Griffin Neame (Cowboys) and Jordan Riki (Broncos) enter the Kiwis’ frame and Broncos fullback Te Maire Martin receives a recall after his impressive return to the NRL this season. The last of Martin’s four internationals was Kiwi head coach Michael Maguire’s first Test in charge against England in Denver four years ago.
Unsurprisingly, 2021 Dally M Team of the Year members James Fisher-Harris (Penrith) and Isaiah Papali’i (Parramatta) have cemented their spots in the squad. Tigers-bound Papali’i has averaged 155 metres a game to add to his five tries while Fisher-Harris consistently shows why he’s one of the best front-rowers in the game.
The versatile Joey Manu (Sydney Roosters) is named alongside Melbourne’s cohort of playmakers, Jahrome Hughes, Brandon Smith, Nelson Asofa-Solomona and the Bromwich brothers Jesse and Kenny.
Leading the NRL with 964 post-contact metres, Canberra forward Joseph Tapine has been a season standout. He joins Canberra teammate Jordan Rapana and in-form Cowboys centre Peta Hiku who returns to the Kiwi squad after last touring in 2018.
“I know how much the black and white jersey means to these players,” said Maguire.
“To finally return home after two years and play for your country in front of fans and whānau, this Test will be special.
“This squad has an exciting mix of fresh talent and experienced Kiwis having some of their best seasons. We have a strong spine of leaders throughout the group that play a crucial role in the team, especially with these new boys coming through.
“Some difficult decisions have had to be made, but it’s a positive sign of our depth in certain positions. With the quality of Kiwi talent on display throughout the NRL, we are in a strong place as we look to build a solid foundation ahead of the Rugby League World Cup come October.”
RECORD A MESSAGE OF SUPPORT FOR THE NEW ZEALAND KIWIS
RECORD A MESSAGE OF SUPPORT FOR MATE MA’A TONGA
New Zealand Kiwis Squad:
Nelson Asofa-Solomona (Storm)
Jesse Bromwich (Storm)
Kenneath Bromwich (Storm)
Dylan Brown (Eels)
Erin Clark (Titans)
James Fisher-Harris (Panthers)
Kieran Foran (Sea Eagles)
Peta Hiku (Cowboys)
Jahrome Hughes (Storm)
Moses Leota (Panthers)
Isaac Liu (Titans)
Joseph Manu (Roosters)
Te Maire Martin (Broncos)
Ken Maumalo (Wests Tigers)
Ronaldo Mulitalo (Sharks)
Griffin Neame (Cowboys)
Briton Nikora (Sharks)
Marata Niukore (Eels)
Isaiah Papali’i (Eels)
Jordan Rapana (Raiders)
Jordan Riki (Broncos)
Brandon Smith (Storm)
Scott Sorensen (Panthers)
Joseph Tapine (Raiders)
Dallin Watene-Zelezniak (Warriors)