New Zealand rugby league’s spiritual home Mount Smart Stadium has been used as a political football of late but next Saturday it will be centre stage for all the right reasons when it showcases the game’s brightest young hopes in a one-off international between the Junior Kiwis and the Junior Kangaroos (7.00pm kick-off).
The Trans-Tasman clash is the main event of a doubleheader preceded by the Pirtek NZRL National Premiership grand final between the Akarana Falcons and the Counties-Manukau Stingrays (5.00pm kick-off).
Among those on show for the Junior Kiwis at the Vodafone Warriors’ home base will be just two of the club’s 2014 NYC premiership winners in Sam Lisone and Adam Tuimavave-Gerrard.
Despite last week’s 34-32 grand final win over Brisbane, the Vodafone Junior Warriors don’t have any other representatives; for last year’s corresponding fixture they provided eight players from the side beaten in the 2013 NYC grand final.
The clash between the young New Zealand and Australian players will serve as an entrée to the main course to follow a week later (October 25) when the 2014 Four Nations kicks off with a double header at Suncorp Stadium; the Kangaroos take on the Kiwis while England meets Toa Samoa.
The Junior Kiwis, coached by former Auckland Vulcans coach Brent Gemmell, feature seven players named in this year’s Holden Cup Team of the Year.
Lisone, who was named the club’s Vodafone NYC Player of the Year, is one of the seven while the others are standoff Te Maire Martin (Eests Tigers), hookers Manaia Cherrington (Wests Tigers) and Danny Levi (Newcastle), second rowers Nelson Asofa-Solomona (Melbourne) and Joseph Tapine (Newcastle) and prop Addin Fonua-Blake (St George Illawarra).
Five players named in the Holden Cup Team of the Year have been included in the Junior Kangaroos’ squad.
Three of the New Zealand players - Cherrington, Tapine and Zach Dockar-Clay - return from the line-up that led the Junior Kangaroos 20-10 at halftime last year before falling 38-26. Also in that 2013 team was wing Dallin Watene-Zelezniak, who was this week named in the Kiwi team for the 2014 Four Nations.
"The Junior Kiwis have always provided a direct pathway into the senior national side, with several more of last year's team pushing for higher honours in the near future," says NZRL high performance general manager Tony Iro.
"We expect this very talented group will be no different."
Tickets for the Mount Smart Stadium doubleheader next Saturday cost just $5.00 for adults while children under-12 get in free.
JUNIOR KIWIS | Josh Ailoai (Parramatta Eels), Nelson Asofa-Solomona (Melbourne Storm), Manaia Cherrington (Wests Tigers), Zach Dockar-Clay (Parramatta Eels), Addin Fonua-Blake (St George Illawarra Dragons), Watson Heleta (Wests Tigers), Sione Katoa (Penrith Panthers), Danny Levi (Newcastle Knights), Lamar Liolevave (Wests Tigers), Sam Lisone (Vodafone Warriors), Sam Manulelua (South Sydney Rabbitohs), Te Maire Martin (Wests Tigers), Taane Milne (Sydney Roosters), Kodi Nikorima (Brisbane Broncos), Chance Peni (Newcastle Knights), Joseph Tapine (Newcastle Knights), Adam Tuimavave-Gerard (Vodafone Warriors), Braden Uele (Sydney Roosters). Coach: Brent Gemmell. Assistant coach: Kelvin Wright.
JUNIOR KANGAROOS | Clint Gutherson (Manly Sea Eagles); Valentine Holmes (Cronulla Sharks), Brett Greinke (Brisbane Broncos), Euan Aitken (St George Illawarra Dragons), Jake Mamo (Newcastle Knights); Drew Hutchison (St George Illawarra Dragons), Ryan Matterson (Parramatta Eels); Matthew Lodge (Wests Tigers), Cameron McInnes (South Sydney Rabbitohs), Joe Ofahengaue (Brisbane Broncos); Patrick Mago (Canberra Raiders), Tevita Pangai (Canberra Raiders); Kelepi Tanginoa (Parramatta Eels). Interchange: Jack Bird (St George Dragons), Willis Meehan (Sydney Roosters), Cameron Munster (Melbourne Storm), Andy Saunders (Penrith Panthers), Jackson Hastings (Sydney Roosters). Coach: Kelly Egan (Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs).