Eight of the most experienced players in New Zealand Test history headline the Maori Warriors side named today in the latest ‘best of’ Vodafone Warriors selection revealed on the NRL’s regular ‘Team List Tuesday’ in association with the Alternative Commentary Collective (ACC).
The squad includes four of the top five on the Kiwis’ all-time list – Ruben Wiki (55 Tests), Adam Blair (51 Tests), Stacey Jones (46 Tests) and Stephen Kearney (45 Tests) – along with another four players ranked in the top 14.
Next on the list of Kiwi greats who were also Vodafone Warriors during their playing careers are Issac Luke (43), Thomas Leuluai (40), the late Quentin Pongia (35) and Sean Hoppe (35).
Another three players in the 17-man all-time squad also boast long Test careers in Duane Mann (29), Lance Hohaia (28) and the club’s foundation captain and Warrior #1 Dean Bell (26).
In total the 17 players count more than 500 Tests for the Kiwis, 2100-plus appearances for the Vodafone Warriors and more than 4600 games combining their total playing careers (internationals and all club appearances).
Four of those named had dual eligibility featuring in the Tongan Warriors and Samoan Warriors unveiled in the past two weeks – Mann and Awen Guttenbeil in the Tongan squad and Leuluai and Wiki in the Samoan line-up.
The versatile Hohaia claims the fullback spot, the position he filled in the Kiwis’ 2008 Rugby League World Cup and 2010 Four Nations triumphs while he was also in the role for the Vodafone Warriors’ appearance in the 2011 NRL grand final.
Sean Hoppe was an automatic choice for the right wing while Kevin Locke is on the left. Bell and Toopi stand out as the top two centres although there is real depth among the contenders from the likes of Richie Blackmore, Shontayne Hape and Paul Whatuira, each of whom forged their reputations elsewhere.
The incomparable Jones and Leuluai were naturals for the halves with foundation Warrior Gene Ngamu also in the frame.
Pongia and Wiki make fearsome starting front rowers and Luke is at hooker with a big back row of Kearney, Harris and Guttenbeil providing plenty of ball-playing quality.
The real squeeze was on the interchange. Luke and Mann could be interchangeable in the starting hooker role with Syd Eru another consideration. Blair and 173-game Vodafone Warrior Sam Rapira appeal for the middle forward roles on the bench which means Russell Packer misses out while back rower Wairangi Koopu provides cover for the centres on the bench which pushes Mark Horo out.
Other players considered included Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad, Frano Botica, Whetu Tawea, Gerard Beale, Peta Hiku, Kodi Nikorima, Chanel Harris-Tavita, Terry Hermansson, Gavin Hill, Ben Henry, Aaron Heremaia, Lewis Brown, Bodene Thompson, Tyran Smith and Elijah Taylor.
MAORI WARRIORS | 1995-2020
|1||Lance HOHAIA||(Vodafone Warrior #99)|
|2||Sean HOPPE||(Vodafone Warrior #30)|
|3||Dean BELL||(Vodafone Warrior #1)|
|4||Clinton Toopi||(Vodafone Warrior #66)|
|5||Kevin LOCKE||(Vodafone Warrior #152)|
|6||Thomas LEULUAI||(Vodafone Warrior #105)|
|7||Stacey JONES||(Vodafone Warrior #24)|
|8||Quentin PONGIA||(Vodafone Warrior #52)|
|9||Issac LUKE||(Vodafone Warrior #206)|
|10||Ruben WIKI||(Vodafone Warrior #123)|
|11||Stephen KEARNEY||(Vodafone Warrior #11)|
|12||Tohu Harris||(Vodafone Warrior #224)|
|13||Awen GUTTENBEIL||(Vodafone Warrior #33)|
|14||Duane MANN||(Vodafone Warrior #9)|
|15||Sam RAPIRA||(Vodafone Warrior #131)|
|16||Adam BLAIR||(Vodafone Warrior #223)|
|17||Wairangi KOOPU||(Vodafone Warrior #64)|