It's been a long time coming but North Queensland powerhouse Jason Taumalolo will finally make his Kiwi Test debut after being named in Stephen Kearney's line-up for the Four Nations tournament-opener against Australia at Suncorp Stadium on Saturday (6.45pm kick-off local time; 9.45pm NZT).
Named with Taumalolo to perform his first haka is Penrith whiz-kid Dallin Watene-Zelezniak, who caps off a breakout rookie NRL season with a maiden Test jumper at just 19 years of age (although his involvement is in doubt due to a foot injury).
But it is the long-awaited selection of Cowboys wrecking ball Taumalolo – he was 18th man for the 2012 Trans Tasman Test – that has injected an air of excitement into the Kiwi camp in Brisbane this week. He has already had a taste of internartional football playing for for Tonga last year.
"He's a superstar," chuffed five-eighth Kieran Foran.
"I think everyone's seen what he was capable of this year. He's so big and strong. He's got late footwork at the line which is a real threat to the opposition. I'm hoping he can bring his bag of skills on Saturday night and be a weapon for us."
Foran, who resumes his spot at pivot after missing this year's Anzac Test through injury, had no hesitation in hinting how he intends to involve his midfield battering ram against the depleted Kangaroos.
"He's about as thick as a brick wall. He's so solid – he's built like a brick shedhouse," he said.
"He just needs to pick out who he wants to go at, and go at them with speed and power and if he does that, he'll be a big threat for us."
Second-rower Kevin Proctor let the cat out of the bag early on Tuesday, confirming Taumalolo's call-up to reporters before the team's announcement.
Asked which of the squad's four rookies had most impressed him since the beginning of camp, the Storm unit said: "Jason Taumalolo. He's been playing really well for the Cowboys this year, and I'm excited for him to play this week for the Kiwis. He's a big boy, and he's pretty fast too. You don't want to be tackling him."
Watene-Zelezniak, who beat out veteran Kiwi Manu Vatuvei and fellow rookie Sosaia Feki, is in line to join clubmate Dean Whare in what will be an all-Penrith right edge – a combination the Kiwis hope will add to their impressive showing against the Kangaroos in a 30-18 defeat in May that was closer than the scoreline suggested.
"We caught the Aussies off-guard, we probably just went away from that in the second half and probably didn't mount as much pressure as what we needed to. The positive signs were there and hopefully we can build on that," he said.
"I think this group's been with each other the last few years now. We're starting to get an understanding of how we want to play. That's the exciting thing. That's just what we need to keep building on as we go through this campaign."
Victory over Australia would set up the Kiwis for a genuine shot at reclaiming the Four Nations crown from Australia, with their other two round robin games to be played at Whangerei and Dunedin, and the final at Wellington, all in New Zealand.
"We've got the home ground advantage going back to New Zealand so hopefully we can get a win up now and give us a lot of confidence going into the next two games," Proctor said.
- This article was first published on nrl.com