By Stephen Gallagher
We’re not too far out out of from the ANZAC test, which we won last year for the first time in…. well…. way too long.
Before Kiwis coach Stephen Kearney names his side to beat the Kangaroos again, I thought I would have a punt to see how close I get.
1. Tuimoala Lolohea (New Zealand Warriors)
This kid is replacing Kiwis fullback Roger Tuivasa-Sheck for his club, and will do it for his country too.
Lolohea is having a breakout season. After debuting in 2014 for the Warriors, Tui Lolohea is finally finding some consistency, and is being picked week in, week out.
A Mr Fix It of sorts as he can play anywhere in the backline – he’s best suited where he can get lots of ball.
At the back he can create himself some space, and turn on the after burners with his pace.
2. Jason Nightingale (Saint George Illawarra Dragons)
Gypsy is a must. One of the most consistently solid performers in the black and white, Jason Nightingale is a player that you can always rely on.
He may not step fan entire league team, and run 100 metres in 10 seconds – but he’ll catch everything that comes his way, offer fantastic support play and go about his work in a way that never lets his team mates down. Good on ya Gypsy!
3. Shaun Kenny-Dowall (Sydney Roosters)
SKD has recently cracked two hundred NRL games for his club, Sydney Roosters.
I’ve always been a fan of Skiddy since he came on the international scene. A player that has excelled at the centre position.
He offers valuable ball handling skills, can set up his outside man, and 9 out of 10 times can get around the fella marking him.
SKD uses his big fend and broad shoulders n strength to tell defenders to get lost, and steps by 10% for the Kiwis.
4. Pita Hiku (Penrith Panthers)
Gisborne Gold may no longer exist (now Sunshine Brewery) but there’s Gisborne Gold in this kid.
The East Coaster is having his first season at West Sydney’s Penrith Panthers and is going well.
An impressive player who had the CV to slot in anywhere in the backline, Hiku creates danger whenever he had ball in hand.
Defensively sound too, it’s a centre like this that every team needs. Hiku has a quick step that leaves the opposition grabbing at thin air.
5. Dallin Watene-Zelezniak (Penrith Panthers)
Third time lucky for DWZ. After two failed attempts at his debut (injury, and suspension) this kid has to play against the Aussies.
A renowned finisher, DWZ will cause havoc outside his club mate Hiku.
Like the old adage suggests, give him an inch and he will run a mile. One of the most talented wingers in the comp, and going to be a great servant for the Kiwis for years to come.
6. Shaun Johnson (New Zealand Warriors)
There’s no doubts about this selection. Shaun Johnson has to be there.
Johnson’s form is returning. He is bringing his confidence with him, and his X Factor aura means he is deadly on his day.
SJ will have to bring the heat, and apply that blow torch. Any chance that he runs to the line with ball in hand means there’s a chance the Kiwis will find the try line. Exciting!
7. Kieran Foran (Parramatta Eels)
Now here’s a player that was great, has joined a new club and is now excellent.
His form at Parramatta is devistating. He’s taken on more responsibility and has thrived with it.
Foran is a natural leader, and is a great player to have controlling your side for 80 minutes. A spot on kicking game, and an old-school side step that can bite you in the ass.
8. Jesse Bromwich (Melbourne Storm)
Melbourne’s player of the year last season, and for good reason. Bromwich is world class, the best prop in the game in my eyes.
There’s no one harder to tackle, to wrap up ball and all, and there’s no one who tackles like he does.
No self-preservation – Jesse is a leader. Puts his body on the line to fire up the lads around him.
9. Issac Luke (New Zealand Warriors)
Ol’ Bully, co-captain of this side will once again lead the way at hooker.
Luke’s awareness at the ruck, and the way he commits defenders to open up the play outside him is excellent.
You’ll also find Bully in opponents ears, and around their ankles most times they’re running the ball. An electric player to have in your side.
10. Adam Blair (Brisbane Broncos)
The other co-captain will also be back to haunt his green and gold foes.
A career turn around of epic proportions, Blair as a Bronco is the best he’s been since he first came on the scene.
He is relentless, ruthless and wreaks chaos on the field whenever he’s on there.
One guy I have found a lot of faith in again. He isn’t a player who takes a step back, a player with necessary mongrel.
11. Simon Mannering (New Zealand Warriors)
From sunny Nelson, Simon Mannering is not dynamic, he’s not game changing – but he is a player that gets picked because of of one thing. Accountability.
Mannering fronts up always in black. He is using his actions to inspire. Makes upwarda of 45 tackles a game each week, and has a sly little attacking prowess which gets unleashed every so often.
Mannering is a leader through what he does on the field, a player you can always look to when there’s pressure on.
12. Martin Taupau (Manly Warringah Sea Eagles)
Part one of the wrecking ball brothers. Taupau is an animal.
I heard a rumor, that every time he fends off an opposing player, a cancer patient is cured.
There’s no two ways about it. Marty Taupau hurts people. I am glad I am not a kangaroo, because a player like him would give me nightmares leading in to a match.
A workaholic, and has freakish strength. A player that’s worth watching for 80 minutes.
13. Jason Taumalolo (North Queensland Cowboys)
I am so glad Jason Taumalolo is a Kiwi. Part two of the wrecking ball brothers (better than the ‘Hair Bears’ of Puleatua and Galuvao) his presense is not missed on the field.
Trying to bring him down is like trying to slowdown time…. you just can’t do it.
His form in 2016 hasn’t been deadly, but you know in this Kiwis environment he will step up and deliver whats needed of him. Taumalolo is a machine, set out to run over as many Australians as possible.
14. Kodi Nikorima (Brisbane Broncos)
There’s no doubting Kodi Nikorima is the next big thing for New Zealand.
Bred on the Wayne Bennett Bronco farm, his pedigree is tough, ellusive and fast.
Coming off the bench for Brisbane has seen him go from strength to strength – and was awarded a Kiwis debut last year.
I can see him being a nuisense off the bench this year, running around the tired D line and giving the National side a big boost when they need it most.
He can find the try line, and can tackle the big guys. A very handy bench player.
15. Ben Matulino (New Zealand Warriors)
Like the clock in London, Big Ben Matulino is a wonder of the world.
His progression in his NRL and international career has made him a household name, and is now more than just a player who puts on big hits.
Matulino’s work rate is world class, and can play 80 is need be.
He also can get an offload away at will, which makes him more dangerous than he seems.
Tackles the house down and gives his all.
16. Tohu Harris (Melbourne Storm)
If Tohu Harris got a haircut, he’d be an even better player…
Never mind his 90s mop, Harris is part of a Kiwi contingent at Melbourne which sees him play hard and run hard week in week out.
A player that’s still young, Tohu Harris is a menace to handle. A forward which can play halfback is a rare feat, and Harris has an all round game which makes him a treat no matter where he plays on the field.
17. Sio Siua Taukeiaho (Sydney Roosters)
Made his black debut at the end of last year, and will be back to dish out more punishment – this time in the ANZAC test.
The Kiwis seem to have an endless production line of big boppers with ball skills, and this doesn’t stop with SST.
He has been an enigma at the Roosters, and is deserved of all the accolades he recieves. A player that can change a game around with one big tackle, or one incredible offload. Watch him carefully.
If Taukeiaho is still injured, it’s a no brainer to have Kevin Proctor in there.
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