One New Zealand Warriors fullback Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad will wear the #1 jersey when the New Zealand Kiwis face Toa Samoa in their opening Pacific Championships match at Eden Park on Saturday (6.00pm kick-off).
In what will be his eighth Test in the Kiwi jersey, the 28-year-old 96-game NRL star will start at fullback for the second time.
He was used there against Jamaica at the Rugby League World Cup last year but his other six Tests have all been in the centres, the last of them in the gruelling 14-16 World Cup semi-final loss to the Kangaroos in Leeds on November 12.
Nicoll-Klokstad is coming off a brilliant NRL season following his return to the One New Zealand Warriors in 2023.
Featuring in 23 of the club’s 27 matches he scored seven tries and produced eight try assists while he made 98 tackle breaks and averaged 189 metres a game, which was bettered only by Dylan Edwards (207.5), Greg Marzhew (200.7) and Brian To’o (200.6) of those players who appeared regularly throughout the season.
With Nicoll-Klokstad at fullback, Golden Boot winner Joseph Manu is moved back into the centres in a line-up including four debutants.
Auckland-born Canberra centre Matthew Timoko is the only newcomer in the backline while Christchurch-born former Toa Samoa international Fa’amanu Brown (Newcastle) is set for his Kiwi debut at hooker.
The other two newcomers are West Coaster Griffin Neame (North Queensland) and Gisborne-born Leo Thompson (Newcastle) on the interchange.
Head coach Michael Maguire’s first selection of the year features 12 players who lined up for the Kiwis in their last international, the 14-16 loss to the Kangaroos in the Rugby League World Cup semifinal in Leeds on November 12 last year.
Winger Jamayne Isaako is recalled to the New Zealand team after last playing in the 2-0 series win against the touring Great Britain side in 2019.
“The core of the side is built around players who have shown the passion they have for the Kiwi jersey in the past,” said Maguire.
“Joining them are four players who are about to represent their country at this level for the first time. That’s hugely exciting for them and their families as it is for our whole group.”
The well-travelled Brown (28) provides significant international experience having represented Samoa since 2016 including at last year’s Rugby League World Cup in England.
Greymouth-raised Neame (22), who has made 43 NRL appearances for the Cowboys since 2021, was a non-playing member of the Kiwis’ squad for their mid-season Test against Mate Ma’a Tonga in Auckland last year.
The 23-year-old Thompson started the season by representing the Māori All Stars side against the Indigenous All Stars in Rotorua in February before making 25 appearances for the Knights to boost his NRL career tally to 41 since his debut last year.
Timoko (23) has made 62 appearances for the Raiders in the past four years, playing all 25 of their matches in 2023 when he finished with 11 tries, 118 tackle breaks and averaged 158 metres a game.
NEW ZEALAND KIWIS v TOA SAMOA
Eden Park, Auckland
Saturday, October 21, 2023
|1 CHARNZE NICOLL-KLOKSTAD #820
2 RONALDO MULITALO #824
3 MATTHEW TIMOKO Debutant
4 JOSEPH MANU #815
5 JAMAYNE ISAAKO #808
6 DYLAN BROWN #826
7 JAHROME HUGHES #819
8 JAMES FISHER-HARRIS (c) #801
9 FA’AMANU BROWN Debutant
10 MOSES LEOTA #827
11 ISAIAH PAPALI’I #817
12 BRITON NIKORA #818
13 JOSEPH TAPINE #800
14 KIERAN FORAN #757
15 NELSON ASOFA-SOLOMONA #804
16 GRIFFIN NEAME Debutant
17 LEO THOMPSON Debutant
18 NAUFAHU WHYTE Debutant
19 WIREMU GREIG Debutant
20 DANNY LEVI #806
21 KEANO KINI Debutant
HEAD COACH | MICHAEL MAGUIRE