A potent New Zealand theme runs right through the teams for tomorrows three grand finals at ANZ Stadium.
While theres an obvious all-New Zealand flavour in the Vodafone Junior Warriors side for the NYC grand final against Penrith, theres also a Kiwi presence in the other two grand finals.
Indeed as many as 36 players with New Zealand links are in line to feature on grand final day, more than a third of the 102 players wholl be on show.
In the NYC showpiece, all 17 players in the Vodafone Junior Warriors side to face Penrith have come through the clubs system, either starting in the development squad or coming into the club directly from First XV rugby union (like Albert Vete from St Kentigern College, Ngataua Hukatai from Kings College and Solomone Kata from Sacred Heart College).
Only two players werent born in Auckland Kata in Tonga, coming out to New Zealand about three years ago, and halfback Mason Lino who, while born in Samoa, was raised and educated in New Zealand; hes a product of Avondale College and a Marist Saints junior.
Starting on the wing for the Panthers is the highly-talented New Zealand-born Dallin Watene-Zelezniak.
In the NRL grand final there could be as many as 12 players taking the field tomorrow who were either born in New Zealand or have strong links with the country.
The Sydney Roosters have current or former Kiwi internationals Shaun Kenny-Dowall, Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, Sonny Bill Williams and Frank-Paul Nuuausala while Roger Tuivasa-Sheck is set to make his Kiwi debut in the next few weeks. Prop Sam Moa, who has represented Tonga, has declared himself available for the Kiwis while two players with New Zealand links are on the bench. One is front rower Isaac Liu, an Otahuhu Leopards junior, and the other is Dylan Napa, wholl represent the Cook Islands at the coming Rugby League World Cup. Hes the son of former Auckland and Otahuhu front rower Stan Napa; he moved from Auckland in the 1980s to play for Norths in the Brisbane premiership under Graham Lowe and in 1983 he made four first-grade appearances for the North Sydney Bears alongside his ex-Otahuhu team-mate and Kiwi captain Mark Graham.
Named in the Manly starting line-up are Steve Matai, Kieran Foran and Justin Horo all born in Auckland while Gisborne-born, Auckland-raised former Vodafone Junior Warrior Peta Hiku is on an extended bench as cover for Brett Stewart. Ex-Kiwi and former Vodafone Warrior first grader Joe Galuvao has missed much of the season with injury but has been spotted training with Manly and could be a late inclusion. He has impressive grand final credentials, winning a premiership with Penrith in 2003 and with Manly against the Vodafone Warriors in 2011 while he was in the beaten Parramatta side in the 2009 grand final.
There are also New Zealand connections in the line-ups for the New South Wales Cup grand final.
Cronulla has New Zealand-born players in Kirisome Auvaa, 2012 Junior Kiwi Tupou Sopoaga and Matthew Wright while Samoan-born Penani Manumalealii was raised in Auckland and played for the Junior Kiwis last year.
The Windsor Wolves, Penrith's feeder club, includes just one player of known New Zealand links in Auckland-born former New Zealand Maori representative Anthony Cherrington.
While he can't be included in the New Zealand grand final day count, Cronulla halfback Chad Townsend will command special interest in his last outing for the Sharks before he joins the Vodafone Warriors.