Injuries galore and a couple of players who it seems won’t be selected because of failing to meet team standards at club level. Here is the best Kiwi team we could come up with for next week’s Test against Australia. (Main photo: photosport.nz).
1. Peta Hiku
Playing really well for Penrith – albeit in the centres – and is the safest option to assume the No.1 jersey, provided Lolohea can’t recover in time.
2. Jason Nightingale
One of the Dragons’ best through the opening two months. He doesn’t seem to play bad games when he’s in a Kiwi jersey either.
3. Tohu Harris
Would easily earn a spot in his natural back-row position, but if Hiku has to play fullback then the Kiwis desperately need some security at centre, and the multi-talented Harris can provide that. Has some experience there for the Storm this year too.
4. Shaun Kenny-Dowall
Has been on fire in attack this year and will add some spark and substance coming out of yardage.
5. Curtis Rona
A non-playing squad member on last year’s tour of England, Rona will take the next step by assuming the wing position which otherwise might have been filled by Manu Vatuvei.
6. Thomas Leuluai
Short of playing someone out of position, Leuluai is the only real option at standoff. He has played well in his few games since returning from a long injury lay-off, and brings a ready-made combination with Shaun Johnson and Issac Luke.
7. Shaun Johnson
The obvious choice here. This match last year was the turning point in Johnson’s season.
8. Jesse Bromwich
Probably the best front-rower in the world right now. Has been racking up big numbers for the Storm.
9. Issac Luke
He doesn’t think his form warrants selection, and right now it probably doesn’t, but he’s still the best hooker the Kiwis have.
10. Adam Blair (c)
Has been solid for Brisbane so far this year and can bring some intimidation factor to the starting side in Ben Matulino’s absence.
11. Kevin Proctor
Super consistent for the Storm. A class presence on the edge who brings a decent offload and pass, also sound in defence.
12. Martin Taupau
Has come back into form nicely over the past couple of weeks and you just know he’s going to bring plenty to this contest.
13. Isaac Liu
If Mannering is out the Kiwis need a no-nonsense workhorse in the middle, who can allow other members of the squad to concentrate more on attacking impact. Liu can do a good job here and has been playing well at club level.
14. Lewis Brown
There are big question marks over Luke’s effectiveness when forced to play big minutes, so Brown can cover dummy-half. If he’s not needed there he’s capable of playing on either edge, through the middle or at centre. An ideal bench player.
15. Sam Moa
His impact and quick play the balls will be welcomed off the bench.
16. Jared Waerea-Hargreaves
Picking ‘JWH’ after just one game back from a serious injury isn’t ideal, but with Matulino out the Kiwi front-row depth is tested, and the Roosters’ big man can make a difference via the interchange.
17. Jason Taumalolo
We all know how effective he is on the ball, but we are keeping him on the bench so he can run at some tired bodies, and hopefully avoid doing too much of the tough defensive work early on, which will detract from his attacking impact.