Waikato rugby league achieves a special double by providing captains of both the New Zealand Kiwis and the Kiwi Ferns in today’s international double header at Mount Smart Stadium.
Hamilton-born, Ngaruawahia-raised Dallin Watene-Zelezniak’s junior club was College Old Boys in Hamilton.
He captains the Kiwis for the fifth time in today’s Oceania Cup Test against Mate Ma’a Tonga after making his captaincy debut in last October’s clash against Australia at the same ground.
Putaruru-born and raised Honey Hireme brings a Waikato flavour to the Kiwi Ferns’ captaincy today. Hireme, who now lives in Hamilton, played her junior rugby league for the Putaruru Dragons and is playing for the Hamilton City Tigers this year.
Kiwi Ferns team changes
Kiwi Ferns head coach Justin Morgan has shuffled his line-up for today’s international against Fetu Samoa at Mount Smart Stadium (3.10pm kick-off).
Debutante Charntay Poko was named in jersey #18 when the team was officially submitted on Tuesday but following the week’s training sessions, Morgan has brought her in to start in the halves with Raecene McGregor.
That sees Raquel Anderson-Pitman (#6) moved to the interchange while there’s also a change in the starting front row with Amber Paris Hall (#15) swapped in for Aeishaleigh Smalley (#8).
The bench is Anderson-Pitman, Smalley, Nita Maynard and Crystal Tamarua with Amber Kani and Jules Newman the 18th and 19th players.
The New Zealand Kiwis are confirmed to line up 1-17 as named on Tuesday with Zane Tetevano and Kieran Foran in #18 and #19.
While Kani has missed the playing 17 for the Kiwi Ferns, eight of her 2018 Warriors WNRL team-mates are in the side. The Vodafone Warriors also provide three members of the coaching staff in Justin Morgan and Luisa Avaiki plus trainer Mark Harvey. The eight players lining up are Apii Nicholls, Hilda Mariu, Krystal Rota, Annetta Nuuausala, Georgia Hale, Anderson-Pitman, Smalley and Tamarua.
In a reversal of their Kiwi Ferns roles, Avaiki will again coach the Warriors in the WNRL this year while Morgan will be her assistant.
The Vodafone Warriors also provide two of Kiwi head coach Michael Maguire’s assistant coaches in Stacey Jones and Nathan Cayless as well as three players in Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, Ken Maumalo and Leeson Ah Mau.
Previous clashes against Tonga
Tonight’s Test will be the sixth between the Kiwis and Mate Ma’a Tonga.
Results since the first in 1995:
- 1995 | Kiwis 25, Tonga 24 at Wilderspool, Warrington (RLWC)
- 1999 | Kiwis 74, Tonga 0 at Carlaw Park, Auckland
- 2008 | Kiwis 56, Tonga 8 at Mount Smart Stadium, Auckland
- 2009 | Kiwis 40, Tonga 24 at International Stadium, Rotorua
- 2017 | Kiwis 22, Tonga 28 at Waikato Stadium, Auckland
Sir Peter Leitch Challenge Trophy at stake
The Kiwis v Tonga Test is the first in the new Oceania Cup competition.
The Kiwis will meet the Kangaroos at the end of the season and Tonga will play the Australians as well.
Also at stake tonight is the Sir Peter Leitch Challenge Trophy.
This was first contested as the Peter Leitch QSM Challenge Trophy in 2008 when the Kiwis met Tonga at Mount Smart Stadium.
A new version of the trophy was struck after Sir Peter was knighted. It’s at stake whenever the Kiwis play island nations in non-Rugby League World Cup internationals.
Marshall not most experienced Kiwi
While the 34-year-old Benji Marshall made his Kiwi Test debut as long ago as 2005, he won’t be the New Zealand side’s most experienced international on the field today.
That honour belongs to halves partner Shaun Johnson who is Marshall’s junior by six years.
Johnson (28) will play his 30th Test today while Marshall, off the international scene for seven years, lines up for the 28th time.
In fact, two other Kiwi players have also made more Test appearances than Marshall. Props Jesse Bromwich and Jared Waerea-Hargreaves both take their Test tallies to 29 in this contest.