Newly-crowned Dally M Medallist and North Queensland Toyota Cowboys lock Jason Taumalolo spearheads the NZ Kiwis squad – featuring five rookies – to take on Australia in Perth next week and the subsequent Four Nations tournament.
Taumalolo, 23, was last week jointly awarded the game’s highest individual honour, and will now turn his attention to national duties following a breakout year.
In his first selection as Kiwis head coach, David Kidwell has named NZ Warriors backs David Fusitu’a and Solomone Kata, promising five-eighth Te Maire Martin, Canberra second row Joseph Tapine and in-form Raiders team-mate Jordan Rapana.
If selected to play on tour, one of them has the opportunity to become Kiwi #800.
“All of these players have shown exciting form during the NRL season and have certainly earned their selection on merit,” says Kidwell.
“But we’re always looking one step ahead, whether that’s to next year’s World Cup or beyond, and we also think all these players can play a big part in keeping the Kiwis on top for many years to come.
“In picking this team, we’ve tried to achieve a balance between players who are proven at Test level and those that are the future of the Kiwis programme.
"Injuries play an unfortunate part in our game and some of these newcomers will get an immediate opportunity to show they’re ready for the next level.”
Kiwis regulars unavailable for the up-coming campaign include Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, Peta Hiku, Dean Whare, Kieran Foran, Ben Matulino, Alex Glenn and Kodi Nikorima.
Kidwell has also opted to retain Melbourne Storm prop Jesse Bromwich as his captain, continuing the role he performed against Australia in Newcastle in May.
Long-serving skipper Simon Mannering (Kiwi #731) is also in the group.
“Jesse did a great job leading the team earlier this year in Simon’s absence and, at this stage of his career, I think Simon is just as happy not having the weight of captaincy on him,” says Kidwell.
“But, ultimately, they will both be part of a strong leadership group that sets a strong culture for this team.”
The Kiwis squad will assemble in Perth next weekend for the Test against Australia on Saturday 15 October.
They open their Four Nations account against hosts England on Sunday 30 October (NZ time) at Huddersfield, followed by Australia (6 November) and Scotland (12 November).
New Zealand squad:
Jesse Bromwich (c)
Te Maire Martin