Six Vodafone Warriors including debutant front rower Suaia Matagi have been included in the 24-man squad for the Kiwis’ Four Nations campaign starting later this month.
The 26-year-old Matagi, who has previously represented Toa Samoa, has been named alongside captain Simon Mannering, winger Manu Vatuvei, utility Thomas Leuluai, halfback Shaun Johnson and hooker Siliva Havili.
Team-mates Ben Matulino, Konrad Hurrell and Ben Henry were all ruled out of contention earlier.
Veteran internationals Leuluai (31 Tests) and Vatuvei (24 Tests) return after missing this year’s Anzac Test.
Three other players are in line to make their Kiwi debuts during the tournament – teenage Penrith winger Dallin Watene-Zelezniak, Cronulla utility Sosaia Feki and North Queensland second rower Jason Taumalolo. This won't be Taumalolo's first association with the Kiwis; he was a non-playing member of the 2012 Anzac Test squad (he appeared for Mate Ma’a Tonga at the Rugby League World Cup).
Penrith utility Lewis Brown is back in the Kiwis for the first time since the 2011 Four Nations.
“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,” says Kiwis coach Stephen Kearney.
“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. As well as Hurrell, Henry and Matulino, Sam McKendry (Penrith Panthers), Roger Tuivasa-Sheck (Sydney Roosters) and Jared Waerea-Hargreaves Sydney Roosters) have been ruled out.
“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 October 18 and begin their Four Nations campaign against Australia at Brisbane's Suncorp Stadium, October 25.
FOUR NATIONS - KIWI SQUAD
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 (Vodafone Warriors)
Peta Hiku (Manly Sea Eagles)
Shaun Johnson (Vodafone Warriors)
Shaun Kenny-Dowall (Sydney Roosters)
Thomas Leuluai (Vodafone Warriors)
Issac Luke (South Sydney Rabbitohs)
Simon Mannering (Vodafone Warriors)
Suaia Matagi (Vodafone 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 (Vodafone Warriors)
Dallin Watene-Zelezniak (Penrith Panthers)
Dean Whare (Penrith Panthers)
The team was named today at Wellington's Westpac Stadium, during a visit by an Australian Rugby League delegation that included Kangaroos coach Tim Sheens and Dally M Medal winner Jarryd Hayne. The delegation met with Wellington mayor Celia Wade-Brown and civic officials to discuss preparations for the Four Nations final on November 15.