Five Vodafone Warriors are in the Kiwis' squad for next Friday night's Anzac Test against the Kangaroos at Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane.
Simon Mannering will again captain the Kiwis in what will be his 41st Test appearance.
Also in the squad are his club-mates Manu Vatuvei, playing his 28th Test, Shaun Johnson in his 14th, recalled Ben Matulino in his 20th and Thomas Leuluai his 34th.
Mannering, Vatuvei and Johnson were outstanding in the Kiwis' 22-18 win over the Kangaroos in last year's Four Nations final in Wellington. Leuluai was in the squad but missed the final through injury while Matulino was unavailable for the tournament.
Apart from Matulino, Sam Moa, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck and Dallin Watene-Zelezniak also return after missing the Four Nations.
Of the players used in the Four Nations final, four are missing - Dean Whare, Jason Nightingale, Adam Blair and Jason Taumalolo.
Kiwis (likely line-up) | Roger Tuivasa-Sheck (Roosters); Dallin Watene-Zelezniak (Panthers), Peta Hiku (Sea Eagles), Shaun Kenny-Dowall (Roosters), Manu Vatuvei (Vodafone Warriors); Kieran Foran (Sea Eagles), Shaun Johnson (Vodafone Warriors); Jesse Bromwich (Storm), Issac Luke (Rabbitohs), Ben Matulino (Vodafone Warriors); Tohu Harris (Storm), Kevin Proctor (Storm); Simon Mannering (Vodafone Warriors) captain. Interchange (from): Thomas Leuluai (Vodafone Warriors), Sam Moa (Roosters), Greg Eastwood (Bulldogs), Martin Taupau (Wests Tigers), Lewis Brown (Panthers).
Tuivasa-Sheck was unavailable for the end-of-season internationals, but has hit top form in his new role as Sydney Roosters fullback.
Teenage sensation Watene-Zelezniak was actually named to make his Kiwi debut on the wing in the Four Nations opener, but broke a bone in his foot during the team’s build-up for that game and could play no further part in the tournament.
A variety of injuries kept Matulino out of the Kiwis' programme last year, while Moa withdrew from Four Nations consideration due to family illness.
“All of these players have been in good form so far this season and really put their hands up for inclusion in this Anzac Test side,” says Kearney. “It’s a sign that we are developing some great young talent and good depth in certain positions.”
But the group has also suffered a couple of setbacks over the weekend, with news that Four Nations mainstays Dean Whare and Jason Taumalolo would not be available through injury.
Whare has nursed a hamstring strain for several weeks and could not take the field for Penrith Panthers tonight, while Taumalolo left the field early in North Queensland’s win over Newcastle yesterday with a knee injury.
“It’s disappointing to lose those lads, but that’s the nature of the game sometimes,” says Kearney. “We wish them both a speedy recovery and we have total confidence in the players that take the field on Friday night,” says Kearney.
“We believe this team is capable of a job for us this week and it’s also an opportunity to take another step towards our ultimate goal – the 2017 World Cup.”
KANGAROOS | FOUR DEBUTANTS NAMED
Four players – Alex Johnston, Josh Dugan, Will Chambers and Trent Merrin – have been selected to make their Test debuts for the Kangaroos.
Chambers will become the 800th player to represent Australia, while Johnston made his NRL debut exactly one year ago yesterday.
Melbourne’s Cameron Smith has been chosen to lead the Kangaroos for the 20th time. He joins only five players who have led his country in 20 or more Tests – Darren Lockyer (38), Clive Churchill (27), Brad Fittler (25), Mal Meninga (24) and Wally Lewis (24).
Tim Sheens will coach the Kangaroos for the 31st time since 2009.
Kangaroos | Billy Slater (Storm); Alex Johnston (Rabbitohs), Greg Inglis (Rabbitohs), Will Chambers (Storm), Josh Dugan (Dragons); Johnathan Thurston (Cowboys), Cooper Cronk (Storm); Matt Scott (Cowboys), Cameron Smith (Storm) captain, Aaron Woods (Tigers); Greg Bird (Titans), Sam Thaiday (Broncos); Corey Parker (Broncos). Interchange: Luke Lewis (Sharks), Trent Merrin (Dragons), Nate Myles (Titans), James Tamou (Cowboys). 18th man: Daly Cherry-Evans (Sea Eagles).
MATE MA'A TONGA | FOUR VODAFONE WARRIORS INCLUDED
Four Vodafone Warriors have been named in Mate Ma'a Tonga's sqiad for next Saturday's Test against Toa Samoa in Robina.
Mate Ma'a Tonga | Richard Fa'aoso (Parramatta Eels), Sosaia Feki (Cronulla Sharks), Mahe Fonua (Melbourne Storm), Konrad Hurrell (Vodafone Warriors), George Jennings (Penrith Panthers), Solomone Kata (Vodafone Warriors), Felise Kaufusi (Melbourne Storm), Samisoni Langi (Sydney Roosters), Tuimoala Lolohea (Vodafone Warriors), Joel Luani (Wests Tigers), Sika Manu (Penrith Panthers) captain, Manu Ma'u (Parramatta Eels), Ben Murdoch-Masila (Penrith Panthers), Pat Politoni (Cronulla Sharks), Siosiua Taukeiaho (Sydney Roosters), Peni Terepo (Parramatta Eels), Anthony Tupou (Cronulla Sharks), Albert Vete (Vodafone Warriors)
KIWI FERNS | TEAM TO PLAY JILLAROOS NAMED
Mid Central utility Kristina Sue returns to the Kiwi Ferns squad after seven years in the wilderness, as new coach Alan Jackson announces his first team to take on the Australia Jillaroos in the Anzac Test curtainraiser.Built predominantly on the squad that headed the Aussies 2-1 in their NRL Auckland Nines series, the side will be captained by veteran double international Laura Mariu.
The full Kiwi Ferns squad for the Anzac Test curtainraiser is Tasha Davie, Shontelle Dudley, Maitua Feterika, Teuila Fotu-Moala, Georgia Hale, Annabelle Hohepa, Nora Maaka, Kelly Maipi, Laura Mariu, Krystal Murray, Hilda Peters, Kahurangi Peters, Rona Peters, Krystal Rota, Kristina Sue, Atawhai Tupaea, Janna Vaughan and Sharnita Woodman.
JUNIOR KIWIS | FOUR VODAFONE WARRIORS INCLUDED
After their dramatic 15-14 win over Australia last year, Junior Kiwis coach Kelvin Wright has the luxury of naming eight returning players for next Saturday’s encounter at Gold Coast’s Cbus Stadium, part of an international tripleheader.
“At under-20s, you don’t get much continuity, because they’re getting older and moving on so often,” says Wright. “So it’s great that we have managed to bring so many back that have performed at this level before.
“But we’re expecting another extremely tough game … it’s always that.”
The full NZ Junior Kiwis squad for their showdown with the Junior Kangaroos is Bunty Afoa (NZ Warriors), Nelson Asofa-Solomona (Melbourne Storm), Zach Dockar-Clay (Parramatta Eels), James Fisher-Harris (Penrith Panthers), Watson Heleta (Wests Tigers), Jamayne Isaako (Cronulla Sharks), Sione Katoa (Penrith Panthers), Daniel Levi (Newcastle Knights), Lamar Liolevave (Wests Tigers), Joseph Manu (Sydney Roosters), Te Maire Martin (Wests Tigers), Taane Milne (Sydney Roosters), Marata Niukore (NZ Warriors), Toafofoa Sipley (N Warriors), Jazz Tevaga (NZ Warriors), Renouf To’omaga (Canterbury Bulldogs), Tony Tumusa (Melbourne Storm) and Braden Uele (North Queensland Cowboys).