Auckland, New Zealand, October 9, 2023
Eight NRL rookies and two teenagers yet to play a first-grade match feature in the New Zealand Kiwis A squad to face Tonga A in the Labour Weekend triple-header at Eden Park on Saturday, October 21.
With their eye firmly focused on the future, the national selectors have also included a mix of more established NRL players in a group of 15 players named today.
They will go into camp with the 21-man New Zealand Kiwis squad announced last week for the Pacific Championships encounter with beaten 2022 Rugby League World Cup finalists Toa Samoa.
Three of the 21 players in the Kiwi squad will be added to the New Zealand A line-up next week.
The eight NRL rookies named are Storm second rower Joe Chan (21), Warriors back rower Kalani Going (26), Storm back rower Jack Howarth (20), Warriors centre Ali Leiataua (20), Raiders middle forward Trey Mooney (21), Warriors hooker Paul Roache (24), Warriors fullback Taine Tuaupiki (24) and Storm winger William Warbrick (25).
Yet to play in the NRL are Warriors second rower Jacob Laban (19) and Broncos front rower Benjamin Te Kura (18). Both filled the 18th man role for their NRL sides in the final round of the 2023 regular season but didn’t make it onto the field.
The squad’s most experienced player is Eels centre Bailey Simonsson (25), who played the first of his 85 NRL matches for Canberra in 2019, the year he represented the Kiwis at the World Nines in Sydney.
Prop Pasami Saulo (25) has made 49 appearances for the Knights and the Raiders while centre Asu Kepaoa (23) has played 40 times for Wests Tigers and fellow centre Rocco Berry (22) has 31 appearances for the Warriors.
Also included is Roosters and Māori All Stars utility Zach Dockar-Clay (28), who played 14 times in his NRL debut season for the Bulldogs in 2022.
“It’s really exciting for New Zealand Rugby League being able to bring so many players together at the same time,” said New Zealand Kiwis head coach Michael Maguire.
“The players brought into the New Zealand A squad will all have the opportunity to be in camp with the Kiwis, to train alongside them and to show their potential as future Kiwi internationals.
“It’s really important for us to have an opportunity like this, not just for players striving to become Kiwis but also for coaches.”
Coached by former Kiwi captain Nathan Cayless, the New Zealand Kiwis A team faces Tonga A in the first game of the Labour Weekend triple-header (1.30pm kick-off) at Eden Park followed by the Kiwis Ferns taking on Tonga Women’s (3.45pm kick-off) and the New Zealand Kiwis against in their Pacific Championships encounter (6.00pm).
New Zealand Kiwis A Squad v Tonga A
One NZ Warriors
BENJAMIN TE KURA