Slade Griffin is set to follow in the footsteps of his uncle, John Griffin, after being selected to make his debut for New Zealand in the Test against England on Saturday (Sunday, 6am AEST) at Mile High Stadium.
Griffin, who was born in Australia but raised in Greymouth on the West Coast of the South Island, will start the historic Test on the interchange but New Zealand coach Michael Maguire is yet to finalise his team, with two positions undecided.
Maguire has confirmed that Brisbane’s Jamayne Isaako and Ken Maumalo of the Warriors would start on the wings but he is undecided whether to also give a debut to Wests Tigers centre Esan Marsters or play Brisbane’s Jordan Kahu.
The other position yet to be settled is on the interchange, with Newcastle forward Herman Ese’ese vying with Sydney Roosters backrower Isaac Liu, who has impressed Maguire with his ability to play on an edge as well as in the middle.
Canterbury’s Raymond Faitala-Mariner is set to start his first Test in the second row, alongside Canberra’s Joseph Tapine, while St George Illawarra forward Leeson Ah Mau will also make his Kiwis debut on the interchange, along with Griffin.
For Griffin, Test selection will continue a family tradition after his uncle John played for the Kiwis in 1982, along with the likes of Mark Graham, Hugh McGahn, Olsen Filipaina, Howie and Kevin Tamati, Mark Broadhurst, James Leuluai and Clayton Friend.
John Griffin was also the 1982 West Coast Rugby League player of the year.
“My whole family is very proud,” Griffin said. “My uncle actually played for the Kiwis too so my family is a very proud rugby league family and they love the Kiwis so me getting the call up is something special.
“I am going to represent my home town of Greymouth, my family and pull on the black and white New Zealand jersey.”
Griffin was born in Glen Innes and would be eligible to play State of Origin for NSW but while his brother and sister consider themselves to be Australian he always wanted to represent the Kiwis.
“I am a New Zealander, I was just born in Australia,” Griffin said. “My mum lived in Australia for five years but I grew up in Greymouth and my mother, and my grandmother, grew up in Greymouth, so my family has been there for generations.”
The 27-year-old hooker, who joined Newcastle this season after six years as a deputy to Cameron Smith in Melbourne, has a relationship with Maguire from his time at the Storm as an assistant coach.
Despite the absence of big names such Shaun Johnson, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, Adam Blair and Jesse Bromwich through injury, suspension or unavailability, the Kiwis still boast a strong forward pack, which includes Issac Luke, Martin Taupau, Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, Nelson Asofa-Solomona and James Fisher-Harris.
Centre Peta Hiku has played 10 Tests for the Kiwis, while fullback Dallin Watene-Zelezniak has represented New Zealand six times previously on the wing.
If there is an area the Kiwis could be vulnerable it is the halves as neither Kodi Nikorima or Te Maire Martin are guaranteed starting players for their clubs.
“We have got a few debutants but they have all been playing good for their clubs and I know they are excited to represent their country,” Hiku said.
“Hopefully everyone can bring the form they have had for their clubs and we can get the win. It is the first Test in Denver, everyone who is here wanted to be a part of it and we are all excited to be playing.”
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