Four players are set for their Test debuts when the Kiwis face Mate Ma’a Tonga in New Zealand’s first international in more than two and a half years at Mount Smart Stadium on Saturday night.
Of the eight new faces included in the wider squad this week, Parramatta duo Dylan Brown and Marata Niukore plus Cronulla Sutherland winger Ronaldo Mulitalo and Penrith prop Moses Leota will all play their first Test for the Kiwis.
Brown is paired in the halves with outstanding Melbourne halfback Jahrome Hughes while Niukore is named in the centres with the experienced Peta Hiku and Leota is on a potent bench.
In other selection features head coach Michael Maguire has selected the versatile Joseph Manu at fullback while in-form Parramatta second rower Isaiah Papali’i, who made his debut off the bench for the Kiwis in England 2018, is a starter in his second Test more than three and half years later.
Included on the interchange is 31-yeard-old Manly Warringah half Kieran Foran who makes another international comeback after overcoming adversity.
His return from a two-year absence in 2019 was cruelly ended by a dislocated shoulder just six minutes into the Kiwis’ first Test against Great Britain at Eden Park.
“It’s an exciting time for everyone involved having international rugby league back on deck after so long,” said Maguire.
“There’s a real buzz among the players for what is such a significant occasion for the Kiwi jersey and for the game as a whole.
“We’ve been able to bring together a group of players who have been in tremendous form so far this season and they’re desperate to do well for their country.
“It’s a special thrill giving debuts to Dylan, Marata, Ronaldo and Moses. They really deserve this opportunity.”
Newly-appointed captain Jesse Bromwich is the team’s most experienced player as he eyes his 30th Test match while Foran will play his 23rd since his debut in 2009.
New Zealand team:
1. Joseph Manu 2. Ronaldo Mulitalo 3. Marata Niukore 4. Peta Hiku 5. Jordan Rapana 6. Dylan Brown 7. Jahrome Hughes 8. Jesse Bromwich (c) 9. Brandon Smith 10. James Fisher-Harris 11. Isaiah Papali’i 12. Kenny Bromwich 13. Joseph Tapine 14. Kieran Foran 15. Moses Leota 16. Nelson Asofa-Solomona 17. Briton Nikora 18. Jordan Riki 19. Dallin Watene-Zelezniak 20. Te Maire Martin 21. Scott Sorensen 22. Erin Clark 23. Ken Maumalo 24. Griffin Neame
Tolutau Koula (Sea Eagles), Daniel Tupou (Roosters) Siosifa Talakai (Sharks), Mosese Suli (Dragons), Sione Katoa (Sharks), Kotoni Staggs (Broncos), Talatau Amone (Dragons), Siosiua Taukeiaho (Roosters), Siliva Havili (Rabbitohs), Addin Fonua-Blake (Warriors), Sitili Tupouniua (Roosters), Keaon Koloamatangi (Rabbitohs), Jason Taumalolo (Cowboys), Soni Luke (Panthers), Haumole Olakau’atu (Sea Eagles), Tevita Pangai jnr (Bulldogs), Tevita Tatola (Rabbitohs), Moeaki Fotuaika (Titans), Will Penisini (Eels), Isaiya Katoa (Panthers), Andrew Fifita (Sharks), Joe Ofahengaue (Wests Tigers), Starford To’a (Wests Tigers), Christian Tuipulotu (Sea Eagles), Eliesa Katoa (Warriors).