Former Vodafone Warriors Isaiah Papali’i and Marata Niukore – about to be a Warrior again – are among seven New Zealand internationals set to line up for Penrith and Parramatta in the NRL’s battle-of-the-west grand final at Accor Stadium on Sunday.
Panthers forwards James Fisher-Harris and Moses Leota and Parramatta’s Dylan Brown, Papali’i and Niukore were all teammates when the Kiwis beat Mate Ma’a Tonga 26-6 at Mount Smart Stadium in June while Penrith forward Scott Sorensen was in the extended squad.
The seventh international is Eels winger Bailey Simonsson, who represented the Kiwis at the World Nines in 2019.
Apart from those seven players a number of other players with New Zealand links are set to feature in the final.
Parramatta boasts Auckland-born forwards Junior Paulo and Oregon Kaufusi and Penrith has another Auckland-born prop in Spencer Leniu; all three players have just been named in Toa Samoa’s squad for the Rugby League World Cup in the United Kingdom.
Another with New Zealand links is Penrith standoff Jarome Luai, a Māori All Star last year and Junior Kiwis captain 2017.
New Plymouth-born Makahesi Makatoa has been an interchange regular for the Eels throughout the season although he wasn’t used in last week’s preliminary final win over North Queensland.
Ex-Vodafone Warrior Sean O’Sullivan is on Penrith’s extended bench for the grand final and another former Warrior Ofahiki Ogden is in Parramatta’s squad.