Taumalolo named for Kiwis
Toyota Cowboys forward Jason Taumalolo is one of four rookies included in the NZ Kiwis squad to contest the Four Nations tournament over the next six weeks.
The Kiwis announced their 24-man squad in Wellington this morning with Taumalolo earning a call-up alongside teenage Penrith winger Dallin Watene-Zelezniak, Cronulla utility Sosaia Feki and Warriors prop Suaia Matagi.
This won't be Taumalolo's first experience with the Kiwis – he was a non-playing member of the 2012 Anzac Test to Australia – but this will be another chance for the 21-year-old to finally take the field.
Watene-Zelezniak earns his spot with an outstanding debut season for the Panthers, which produced seven tries in 10 appearances and helped his injury-riddled side deep into the NRL playoffs.
Feki and Matagi get their chances with the late withdrawals of Sydney Roosters teammates Roger Tuivasa-Sheck and Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, both through burnout from a long season.
"We're really excited for the new players coming in for their first time or, in Jason's case, another chance to earn his first cap," Kiwis coach Stephen Kearney said.
"They've all had great seasons in the NRL, and this will be a chance for them to show they can step up and contribute at the next level.
"After our World Cup disappointment last year, I think we made some very positive strides at this year's Anzac Test. We get a few older heads back for this campaign – they will provide some experience, and hopefully will feed off the energy and passion from those younger guys."
"We're very focused on building a team and culture that will see us challenge for the next Rugby League World Cup in 2017, so these new players now have a chance to become part of that long-term process."
Of the train-on squad named over the past month, several players have become unavailable though injury or health issues, including Konrad Hurrell (Warriors), Ben Matulino (Warriors), Sam McKendry (Panthers), Tuivasa-Sheck and Waerea-Hargreaves.
"It's always disappointing to lose players this way, but this is a tough game and you have to expect a certain amount of attrition at the end of any season," says Kearney.
"You have to take a longer-term view of these things – it's important they get themselves right and come back to us when they can."
The Kiwis will assemble on the Gold Coast on 18 October and begin their Four Nations campaign against Australia at Brisbane's Suncorp Stadium on 25 October.
The NZ Kiwis squad for the 2014 Four Nations tournament is:
Gerard Beale (St George Illawarra Dragons)
Adam Blair (Wests Tigers)
Jesse Bromwich (Melbourne Storm)
Lewis Brown (Penrith Panthers)
Greg Eastwood (Canterbury Bulldogs)
Sosaia Feki (Cronulla Sharks)
Kieran Foran (Manly Sea Eagles)
Tohu Harris (Melbourne Storm)
Siliva Havili (NZ Warriors)
Peta Hiku (Manly Sea Eagles)
Shaun Johnson (NZ Warriors)
Shaun Kenny-Dowall (Sydney Roosters)
Thomas Leuluai (NZ Warriors)
Issac Luke (South Sydney Rabbitohs)
Simon Mannering (NZ Warriors)
Suaia Matagi (NZ Warriors)
Sam Moa (Sydney Roosters)
Jason Nightingale (St George Illawarra Dragons)
Kevin Proctor (Melbourne Storm)
Jason Taumalolo (North Queensland Cowboys)
Martin Taupau (Wests Tigers)
Manu Vatuvei (NZ Warriors)
Dallin Watene-Zelezniak (Penrith Panthers)
Dean Whare (Penrith Panthers)