Andrew Berridge – Head Trainer

Livewire utility Kodi Nikorima’s rookie NRL season encompassed a grand final and a debut call-up for New Zealand. Despite fierce competition for the halves and hooker spots, he has played 15 of a possible 23 Tests since breaking into the Kiwis’ squad in 2015.

Born in Palmerston North, Nikorima played for Canterbury club Burnham Chevaliers as a youngster while his father was based at Burnham Military Camp, before the family moved to Brisbane. Nikorima came through the grades at Aspley Devils before joining Brisbane Broncos’ NYC team and representing Queensland Under-18s in 2012.

The versatile attacking dynamo scored 40 tries in 67 under-20s games, culminating in a heart-breaking grand final loss to the Warriors in 2014. Nikorima played fullback in that decider and wore the No.1 again for the Junior Kiwis two weeks later, scoring a try in a 15-14 win over the Junior Kangaroos in Auckland.

But Nikorima was employed as an interchange utility by Broncos first-grade coach Wayne Bennett throughout his rookie season, predominantly spending his game-time at dummy-half. He featured off the bench in the epic golden point grand final loss to North Queensland at the end of 2015 before being named in the Kiwis side to tour England.

The 21-year-old played all three Tests under Stephen Kearney – an assistant coach at the Broncos – debuting off the bench in the series opener and starting at halfback in the remaining two encounters of the 2-1 loss.

Nikorima lined up at five-eighth in New Zealand’s 2016 Anzac Test loss, but a dislocated shoulder ended his NRL campaign in July and ruled him out of the Kiwis’ post-season schedule. Back on deck in Round 6 the following season, he received a chance to cement the Brisbane No.7 jersey and came off the bench in another Anzac Test defeat. He played five-eighth alongside Shaun Johnson in 2017 RLWC pool matches against Samoa – scoring his maiden Test try – and Tonga but was demoted to the interchange for the Kiwis’ quarter-final exit at the hands of Fiji.

Lightning-quick off the mark with great vision and a clever kicking game, Nikorima nailed down the Broncos’ halfback spot the following season and scored 10 tries in 24 games. He also lined up at halfback in all five Tests on the Kiwis’ 2018 docket (with Johnson at five-eighth in four) – the historic Denver Test against England, the 26-24 upset of Australia at Mount Smart in October and the 2-1 series defeat in England.

Nikorima was a resounding man-of-the-match in the morale-boosting third Test victory at Elland Road, starting and finishing a 40-metre try, and producing three deft try-assists as New Zealand ran riot 34-0.

After playing the first seven games of the Broncos’ 2019 NRL campaign, Nikorima was granted a mid-season release to join the Warriors. He was named in an extended squad for the June Test against Tonga soon afterwards but did not make the final 17 with veteran Benji Marshall earning a halves recall.

Nikorima featured in the Kiwis’ World Cup Nines foray in Sydney at the end of the season but was initially left out of the squad for the Tests against Australia and Great Britain. He was holidaying in Queenstown when coach Michael Maguire sent out an SOS for Nikorima just two days out from the first Test against the Lions after hooker Brandon Smith was stood down for disciplinary reasons.

The 25-year-old answered the call and started at dummy-half at Eden Park, reeling off a game-high 53 tackles in the tense 12-8 win. Smith returned for the second Test but Nikorima was included on the bench, playing 33 minutes at hooker as New Zealand powered to a 23-8 victory.

Nikorima, who brought up his 100th NRL appearance in the last round of 2019, represented Māori All Stars during the 2020 pre-season and was one of the gallant Warriors’ best, locking down the five-eighth position and producing a team-high 15 try-assists.

He played 21 games and top-scored for the Warriors with 100 points (including an 80-percent-plus goalkicking percentage) in 2021 but bounced around the team sheet in a difficult campaign. The versatile veteran of 140 NRL games was named in the Kiwis’ wider squad for the postponed World Cup at the end of the year.

Northland product Corey Harawira-Naera broke into the Kiwis Test side in 2019 after three impressive NRL campaigns with Penrith and Canterbury.

Born in Auckland, Harawira-Naera grew up in Opononi, on the shores of the Hokianga Harbour, and gained a rugby league grounding with Otaua Valley Warriors. He moved to Sydney at the end of 2013 after being scouted by the Panthers and played 38 games for the club’s NYC team in 2014-15, culminating in a grand final victory in the latter season.

Harawira-Naera featured for Penrith at the 2016 NRL Auckland Nines but had to bide his time for a first-grade call-up, which eventually came as a 20-year-old early in the 2017 season. The tall tyro garnered immediate attention as a hole-running second-rower with a big defensive appetite. He scored seven tries in 22 games – all but one of those appearances in the starting line-up – and played in both of the Panthers’ finals matches.

A strong sophomore campaign saw Harawira-Naera named in the Kiwis’ squad for their 2018 post-season schedule but he was forced to withdraw due to a groin injury.

Harawira-Naera linked with Canterbury in 2019 and represented Māori All Stars in their historic pre-season clash with the Indigenous All Stars in Melbourne. He was one of the rebuilding Bulldogs’ best in his first year at the club, resulting in New Zealand selection at the end of the year for the World Cup Nines and a belated Test debut off the bench in the Kiwis’ loss to Australia in Wollongong.

An eye-catching presence in the front line of the Kiwis’ haka, the 24-year-old made a sizeable impact as an interchange during the 2-0 series win against Great Britain, muscling over for a crucial first-half try in the 12-8 series-opening victory at Eden Park.

After again playing for Māori All Stars in early-2020, Harawira-Naera was stood down by the Bulldogs and temporarily deregistered by the NRL over an off-season incident. But he was snapped up by Canberra mid-season and played 11 games for his new club, including three finals.

Harawira-Naera did not pull on the lime green jersey until Round 7 in 2021, but he cemented a spot in the Raiders’ pack with 15 consecutive appearances before a lengthy high tackle suspension prematurely ended his season. The industrious back-rower was named in the Kiwis’ wider squad for the 2022 World Cup at the end of the year.

 

Teenage front-rower Mya Terehia Hill-Moana made her Kiwi Ferns debut against Fetu Samoa during a whirlwind 2020 season.

 

Hill-Moana began the year playing for Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs’ Under 18s team in the Tarsha Gale Cup, before the competition was halted by COVID-19 in mid-March.

 

A member of the Auckland Under-18s competition-winning Taniwharau side in 2019, Hill-Moana returned to New Zealand and played a key role in Upper Central Stallions’ triumph in the NZRL National Women’s Championship.

 

She was named player of the match as the Stallions edged Auckland Vulcans in the Championship final.

 

Hill-Moana won an interchange spot in the Kiwi Ferns’ line-up and impressed on debut with her strong runs and work-rate in the 28-8 win over Samoa at Mt Smart Stadium.

Ponsonby Ponies’ Lavinia Tauhalaliku made an impressive Test debut at fullback in the Kiwi Ferns’ late-2020 victory over Fetu Samoa.

 

A standout rugby union player – scoring a try in Counties Manukau’s 2018 Farah Palmer Cup final loss to Canterbury – Tauhalaliku was drafted into a Kiwi Ferns development camp at the start of 2020, before starring for Auckland Vulcans in the NZRL National Women’s Championship.

 

The 21-year-old was one of New Zealand’s most damaging ball-runners against Samoa, leaving a slew of defenders in her wake while making a string of powerful kick-returns and hit-ups in the 28-8 win.

Te Atatu Roosters flyer Katelyn Vaha’akolo was in the thick of the action on Test debut as the Kiwi Ferns defeated Fetu Samoa at Mt Smart Stadium in November 2020.

 

A prominent social media influencer in the health and lifestyle sphere and also a talented netballer, Vaha’akolo was named on the flank to take on Samoa and threw the last pass for retiring Kiwi Ferns legend’s Honey Hireme-Smiler’s ninth-minute try.

 

Vaha’akolo backed up a break from fellow debutant Autumn Stephens-Daly to blaze away for a try of her own in the opening minute of the second half.

 

The young winger’s campaign for Akarana Falcons in the inaugural Sky Sports NZRL National Women’s Premiership included a stunning 80-metre solo try against Mid Central, contributing to her call-up to the New Zealand squad.

In 2020 Christyl Stowers added a Kiwi Ferns debut to her list of achievements, following on from several highly successful seasons at club and representative level.

 

A powerful middle forward also capable of playing in the backline, Stowers featured in Manurewa Marlins’ 2017-18 Auckland grand final victories over Richmond Roses.

 

Stowers represented the Māori All Stars against Indigenous All Stars in 2019 and ’20, before helping Counties Manukau Stingrays to glory in the inaugural Sky Sports NZRL National Women’s Premiership in the latter year.

 

Selected alongside six of her Stingrays teammates in the New Zealand squad for the end-of-season clash with Fetu Samoa, the 28-year-old worked hard on both sides of the ball after coming off the bench in Kiwi Ferns’ 28-8 victory.

Front-rower Harata Butler earned a Kiwi Ferns debut at the end of a bumper 2020 season.

 

An Auckland representative in 2018, Butler was a standout in the Māori All Stars’ win over the Indigenous All Stars at the start of the following season and an engine-room cornerstone of Papakura Sisters’ 2019 ARL grand final success.

 

In a big 2020 pre-season, Butler had a massive game in a losing effort for the Māori All Stars (111 metres, 23 tackles) and was a try-scorer during the Warriors’ NRL Nines campaign in Perth.

 

Butler was named the MVP of the inaugural Sky Sports NZRL National Premiership as a vital cog in Counties Manukau’s emphatic success, before being selected in a new-look New Zealand squad.

 

The 28-year-old was superb on attack and defence in the Kiwi Ferns’ 28-8 win over Fetu Samoa, making several trademark tackle-busting runs and reeling off a string of her customary bone-rattling tackles.

Halfback Karli Hansen needed just 90 seconds of her Kiwi Ferns Test debut to put her talent and array of skills on display.

 

The Te Atatu Roosters playmaker starred for Akarana Falcons in the inaugural Sky Sports NZRL National Women’s Premiership in 2020 to earn a maiden international call-up for the Kiwi Ferns’ clash with Fetu Samoa.

 

Putting a chip kick through in the early stages of the Mt Smart Stadium encounter, Hansen raced through after the ball deflected off the upright and dotted down for a try – a dream introduction to the Test arena by any standards.

 

Hansen also had a hand in two more tries, slotted two conversions, kicked superbly in general play and combined well with halves partner and fellow first-timer Autumn Stephens-Daly (including producing a classy short ball to help set up the five-eighth’s first try) in New Zealand’s convincing victory, before leaving the field with a knee injury during the second half.

A key member of title-winning club and representative teams in recent seasons, Kararaina Wira-Kohu earned her Kiwi Ferns spurs against Fetu Samoa in 2020.

 

The front-rower moved from Papakura Sisters to Manurewa Marlins in 2017, also playing for Northern Swords that season, before earning a spot in the Māori All Stars’ side that defeated Indigenous All Stars in early-2019.

 

Returning to Papakura, Whangarei-based Wira-Kohu was named player of the 2019 ARL grand final after landed the match-winning conversion from sideline as the Sisters edged Richmond Roses 6-4. The former Counties Manukau rugby union rep featured in the Stingrays’ women’s nationals success and Ngāti Umutahi’s Māori rugby league nationals victory, then represented Northland Kauri in the rugby union Farah Palmer Cup, following in the footsteps of her mother, 1991 Northland rep Mary Wira.

 

Wira-Kohu turned out for the Māori All Stars again at the start of 2020 and was the MVP of Counties Manukau’s Sky Sports NZRL National Women’s Premiership final win over Akarana.

 

Starting up front alongside Papakura and Counties Manukau teammate Harata Butler, the 28-year-old Wira-Kohu was an imposing presence on debut in the Kiwi Ferns’ 28-8 win over Fetu Samoa at Mt Smart Stadium.

Bay of Plenty rugby union convert Autumn-Rain Stephens enjoyed a meteoric rise after switching to rugby league in 2020, stealing the show on Kiwi Ferns debut against Fetu Samoa.

 

The Sevens and 15s rugby star won selection in a new-look New Zealand squad after an outstanding campaign in Upper Central Stallions’ triumph in the inaugural NZRL National Women’s Championship, where she featured at fullback.

 

Selected at five-eighth for the Kiwi Ferns, Rotorua product Stephens-Daly dazzling debut in the 28-8 win over Samoa at Mt Smart Stadium included: having a key hand in an early try for retiring great Honey Hireme-Smiler; scoring a blistering 50-metre try of her own; setting up winger and fellow debutant Katelyn Vaha’akolo for a four-pointer with another long run; and picked up a loose ball to complete her double during the second half.

 

The 24-year-old Stephens-Daly dominated the post-match headlines and appears to have a bright future ahead of her in the black-and-white jersey.

Versatile Glenora Bears player Sharliz White was one of nine Kiwi Ferns debutants in the late-2020 Test victory over Fetu Samoa at Mt Smart Stadium.

 

The Avondale College product featured for Akarana at the 2019 National Women’s Tournament, while she was the Falcons’ sole try-scorer in their loss to Counties Manukau Stingrays in the inaugural Sky Sports NZRL National Women’s Premiership final in 2020.

 

White’s efforts on the wing for the Falcons saw her gain a place in the New Zealand squad, chosen as an interchange for the clash with Samoa.

 

She entered the fray midway through the second half as a replacement for lock Charlotte Scanlan, but unfortunately her Kiwi Ferns debut lasted only a few minutes before she was assisted from the field with a knee injury.

At home playing in the halves or at hooker, Raquel Anderson turned out for the Kiwi Ferns at Test
level in 2017 and ’19.

Tokoroa-born Anderson was a New Zealand touch rep and starred for the Waikato rugby union side
in the Sevens and 15-a-side formats.

The Manurewa Marlins ball-player earned national honours in rugby league for the first time in
2017, featuring for the Kiwi Ferns in a RLWC warm-up match against Māori Wāhine Toa before
scoring a try and kicking a goal on Test debut at the tournament in a 38-0 defeat of Papua New
Guinea. Anderson wore the No.7 against the Orchids before featuring at hooker in the 76-0 win over
Cook Islands.

A key member of the Marlins’ 2017-18 Auckland grand final victories, Anderson was picked up by the
Warriors for the inaugural NRLW campaign in 2018 and came off the bench against St George
Illawarra – scoring a try – and Brisbane. She was chosen in the Kiwi Ferns’ squad for the subsequent
Test against the Jillaroos but was not selected in the match-day 17.

The 27-year-old returned to the New Zealand line-up for the mid-2019 Test against Fetu Samoa.
Originally named at five-eighth, Anderson played 19 minutes off the bench in the 46-8 victory.

Ultra-versatile Amber Kani became a valuable member of the Kiwi Ferns squad after earning a Test
call-up in 2016.

She first caught the attention of the national selectors in 2012 when she was named in a Kiwi Ferns
train-on squad, but no games were played that year.
A New Zealand Māori and Counties-Manukau rep, Kani moved from the Papakura club to Manurewa
and won ARL grand finals in 2015 and ’17.

The outside-back/back-rower/hooker made her NRL Auckland Nines debut in 2016. A maiden Test
jersey followed a few months later, coming off the bench as New Zealand beat Australia 26-16 in
Newcastle.

After another Nines campaign in early-2017, Kani played all five matches for New Zealand at the
Rugby League World Cup, scoring two tries in a pool win over Papua New Guinea and coming off the
bench in the loss to Australia in the final.

Kani played one match during the Warriors’ inaugural NRLW season in 2018 and scored a try off the
bench in the Kiwi Ferns’ nail-biting post-season Test loss to the Jillaroos in Auckland. She featured at
centre in the Māori All Stars’ win over the Indigenous All Stars in a historic early-2019 clash.
The Manurewa and Counties-Manukau stalwart made just one appearance for the Warriors in 2019,
but it was a handy interchange contribution in an upset of heavyweights Brisbane.

In 2020 Kani featured on the wing again for Māori All Stars, helped the Stingrays win the inaugural Sky Sports NZRL National Women’s Premiership and returned to the Kiwi Ferns line-up for their 28-8 victory over Fetu Samoa.

A Kiwi Ferns rep at the 2008 and 2013 World Cups, Kathleen Wharton (previously Keremete) made a
remarkable rugby league comeback after a six-year absence to return to the Test arena at the age of
35 and play for the Warriors’ NRLW team.

The 25-year-old debuted at the ’08 World Cup as New Zealand blitzed the competition to retain the
trophy. She was a mainstay for the Kiwi Ferns until featuring again at the 2013 RLWC, which saw the
Jillaroos beat the defending champs 22-12 in the final.

Wharton hung up the boots to raise her family and concentrate on a career in youth justice but
watching the inaugural 2018 NRLW premiership stoked her competitive fires.

The back-rower was immediately included in the Māori All Stars team for their historic 2019 pre-
season clash with the Indigenous All Stars. She then helped Papakura Sisters to an Auckland club
grand final triumph and Counties-Manukau to NZRL National Competition success, before earning a
Kiwi Ferns recall for the mid-season Test against Fetu Samoa. Wharton marked her return with a try,
93 running metres and 19 tackles in the 46-8 win.

Wharton completed her stunning sporting renaissance by receiving a Warriors contract for the
second NRLW season, playing all three matches.

After representing Māori All Stars against Indigenous All Stars during the 2020 pre-season, Wharton was part of the Counties Manukau Stingrays side that took out the maiden Sky Sports NZRL National Women’s Premiership title.

Hilda Mariu (nee Peters) only played rugby league for the first time at age 19, but she has had a
significant impact as a Kiwi Fern over the past six seasons. Mariu’s versatility has seen her play Tests
on the wing and in the second-row, as well as off the bench.

The Counties-Manukau rep made her New Zealand debut as an interchange in the 12-8 victory over
Australia in late-2014. The 31-year-old featured in the historic Kiwi Ferns-Jillaroos series at the 2015
NRL Auckland Nines a few months later.

She started in the second-row in the 2015 Anzac Test loss but missed the Kiwi Ferns’ 2016 schedule.
The strongly-built utility returned for the 2017 Anzac Test and played four matches at the Rugby
League World Cup, scoring a try from the wing against Papua New Guinea before reverting to the
second-row, crossing for another four-pointer in the semi-final thrashing of England and featuring in
the valiant loss to Australia in the final.

She married Kiwi Ferns legend and teammate Laura Mariu in March 2018, before both picked up a
Warriors contract for the inaugural NRLW season; her sister, Kahurangi Peters, was also in the
squad. Deployed on the wing by coach Luisa Avaiki, Hilda had the honour of scoring the first-ever
NRLW try as the Warriors upset the Roosters.

Fluent in te reo and wearing a moko, Mariu played in another historic match in early-2019 – the
Māori All Stars’ win over the Indigenous All Stars in Melbourne.

She lined up at lock in Papakura Sisters’ 2019 ARL grand final win before playing on the wing in the
Kiwi Ferns’ mid-season win over Fetu Samoa. Mariu played all three matches of the Warriors’ second
NRLW campaign on the flank.

Mariu’s utility value came to the fore again for the Warriors in 2020, making starts on the wing, at hooker and off the bench as one of just five New Zealand-based players to go to Australia for the club’s NRLW campaign. She was subsequently named in the Kiwi Ferns’ wider squad but did not play in the Test against Fetu Samoa.

Front-rower Billy-Jean Ale’s New Zealand debut was a long time coming – and she had the rare
distinction of playing against and for the Kiwi Ferns in 2019.

The Mount Albert Lions product was a development player in the Kiwi Ferns’ 2008 World Cup-
winning squad, but the 17-year-old did not take the field.

She represented Samoa against Australia in Apia in 2011.

After featuring in trial matches against the fledgling Warriors women’s team in 2018, the Akarana
Falcons rep earned a contract for the club’s sophomore NRLW campaign. She played in all three of
the Warriors’ 2019 fixtures – two off the bench and one starting at prop – and averaged 66.3 metres
and 12.3 tackles per game.

As one of only two survivors from the 2011 Test against the Jillaroos, Ale was an interchange in Fetu
Samoa’s mid-2019 Test against the Kiwi Ferns. The 28-year-old scored Samoa’s only try of the first
half in a 46-8 loss, as well as making 51 metres and six tackle-breaks.
Ale’s NRLW efforts propelled her into the Kiwi Ferns’ squad for the end-of-year Test against the
Jillaroos. She made four runs, four tackle-breaks and 11 tackles in 30 minutes off the bench in a 28-8
loss in Wollongong.

Younger sister Mary-Jane Ale was 18 th player for the Kiwi Ferns against the Jillaroos in 2016, the
same year she lit up the NRL Auckland Nines with the New Zealand team.

Like older brother Brad Takairangi, dangerous three-quarter Kiana represented Cook Islands and
New Zealand, and made her premiership debut with Sydney Roosters.

After playing for Los Angeles Temptation in the Legends Football League – a seven-on-seven
American football competition – Takairangi returned to Australia and committed to rugby league.
The 25-year-old turned out for Cook Islands at the 2017 Rugby League World Cup.

But Takairangi came to wider prominence in a hectic 2019 season. After starring for Cronulla Sharks
in the NSW Women’s Premiership, she was called up by the Kiwi Ferns to take on Fetu Samoa at
centre – and marked her debut by scoring the first two tries of the 46-8 victory in Auckland.

The flyer earned an NRLW contract with Sydney Roosters, running for over 100 metres in her first
match against the Warriors.

Takairangi then featured in New Zealand’s World Cup Nines triumph – playing a prominent role in
the final victory over Australia – and played in the Kiwi Ferns’ subsequent Test loss to the Jillaroos in
Wollongong, where she made 11 tackles and 74 metres from the wing.

On a special night for the Takairangi family in February 2020, Kiana and Brad both represented the respective Māori All Stars teams against Indigenous All Stars on the Gold Coast. Kiana turned out for the Sharks again in the COVID-19-interrupted NSW Women’s Premiership.

Hamilton product Kanyon Paul made huge strides in 2019, earning a contract with the Warriors
NRLW team and receiving a Kiwi Ferns call-up.

A Waikato rugby union rep, the pint-sized hooker starred alongside Kiwi Ferns icon Honey Hireme in
Hamilton City Tigers’ Waikato club competition success in 2019 before joining the Warriors for their
NRLW campaign.

The 21-year-old came off the bench in the Warriors’ Round 1 win over Sydney Roosters and the loss
in a historic standalone fixture against St George Illawarra at Mount Smart Stadium a week later.
Despite not being used in the Round 3 upset of Brisbane, Paul was selected in the Kiwi Ferns’ World
Cup Nines squad and played in the epic final victory against the Jillaroos.

Paul replaced the unavailable Lavinia Gould in New Zealand’s 20-player squad for the subsequent
Test against Australia in Wollongong but was not part of the match-day 17.

The diminutive playmaker was one of only a handful of New Zealand-based players to feature in the Warriors’ 2020 NRLW campaign, starting at hooker against the Broncos and Roosters. Meanwhile, she was one of only two Warriors players to return home for the Kiwi Ferns’ end-of-season clash with Fetu Samoa.

Coming off the bench in the No.14 jersey on debut, Paul brilliantly set up Crystal Tamarua for the last try of the match by scooping up a loose ball, beating a couple of defenders and popping a superb offload.

Rugged forward Amber Paris-Hall was a teenage Kiwis Ferns debutant in 2013, while she earned a
Test recall after a six-year absence and an NRLW grand final winner’s ring in 2019.

Just 17 when she was named in New Zealand’s train-on squad in 2012 (no games were played that
year), Paris-Hall featured in the Kiwi Ferns’ Rugby League World Cup campaign the following season.
Paris-Hall played in Richmond Roses’ 2017 and ’19 ARL grand final losses. But she enjoyed a
representative renaissance in the latter season, recalled at prop for the Kiwi Ferns’ mid-season
victory over Fetu Samoa. Paris-Hall carted the ball up for 112 metres (including a game-high 39 post-
contact metres) in the 46-8 win.

After playing for Auckland in a trial match against the Warriors women’s team in August, Paris-Hall
was snapped up by defending champion Brisbane for the 2019 NRLW campaign. She scored a try in
the season-opening win over St George Illawarra and produced a powerhouse performance to stifle
the Dragons in the grand final, racking up 130 metres as the Broncos sealed back-to-back
premierships with a 30-6 result.

Paris-Hall ran out against several of her Broncos teammates in the Kiwi Ferns’ 28-8 loss to the
Jillaroos in Wollongong, capping a stunning year of achievement for the engine-room workhorse.

The barnstorming back-rower was even more dominant during the 2020 NRLW campaign, averaging 132 metres and 18 tackles per game, and scoring a try in the Broncos’ grand final victory over the Roosters.

Long-serving North Harbour rugby union rep Jules Newman made a spectacular transition to rugby
league as a 30-year-old in 2019, snaring a Warriors NRLW contract and Kiwi Ferns honours just
months after her code switch.

Encouraged to take part in a Warriors trial during the 2019 pre-season, Mosgiel-born Newman’s
athleticism and potential was immediately apparent. She took a rugby league crash course in the
Auckland club competition with Mount Albert and was named in the Kiwi Ferns’ squad for the
midyear Test against Fetu Samoa, though she was not included in the match-day 17.

Newman’s eye-catching NRLW performances at centre for the Warriors – playing all three games –
saw her named in New Zealand’s World Cup Nines squad. Her blockbusting try early in the second
half of the final was crucial to the 17-15 victory over Australia.

The aggressive outside-back capped a remarkable year by making her Test debut in the 28-8 loss to
the Jillaroos in Wollongong, chalking up 21 tackles in a tough afternoon for the Kiwi Ferns.

Newman featured in Akarana Falcons’ 2020 Sky Sports NZRL National Women’s Premiership campaign, before lining up in the 28-8 win over Fetu Samoa in Auckland as one of only five survivors of the Kiwi Ferns’ previous Test outing.

Playmaker Raecene McGregor has made an enormous impact in three seasons in the Kiwi Ferns
jersey, as well as at NRLW level.

Sydney-born to New Zealander parents, McGregor is a genuine sporting all-rounder, representing
NSW and Australia in soccer, touch rugby and Rugby Sevens.

But after linking up with an Australia-based Kiwi Ferns training squad, the 20-year-old was invited to
New Zealand for a trial and won selection for the Rugby League World Cup. McGregor was one of
the breakout stars at the tournament, scoring two tries on debut against Cook Islands, and dotting
down versus Papua New Guinea (playing at fullback) and against Australia in the final after unseating
Georgia Hale for the No.6.

McGregor’s stunning cut-out pass to send Honey Hireme over for the Kiwi Ferns’ first try in the
decider will live long in the memory.

The Cabramatta Two Blues star earned an NRLW contract with St George Illawarra for the historic
2018 competition, playing all three of the Dragons’ games. She featured in the subsequent 26-24
Test loss to the Jillaroos in Auckland.

McGregor produced a try and a try-assist as well as running for 95 metres in a standout showing at
halfback as New Zealand defeated Samoa midway through 2019. Snapped up by Brisbane for the
second NRLW premiership, she then partnered Jillaroos gun Ali Brigginshaw in the halves as the
Broncos powered to back-to-back grand final victories.

Less than a week before her 22 nd birthday, the burgeoning ball-player was named Player of the
Tournament after the Kiwi Ferns’ sensational World Cup Nines triumph. She scored the opening try
and kicked two goals in the epic 17-15 win over the Jillaroos in the final.

McGregor donned the No.7 again as New Zealand suffered a 28-8 Test loss to Australia in
Wollongong a week later.

A standout in Māori All Stars’ loss to Indigenous All Stars during the 2020 pre-season, McGregor switched to Wests Tigers for the NSW Women’s Premiership and helped steer the Broncos to another NRLW title.

Nita Maynard’s first major impression on the sporting landscape was in the green and gold of the
Australian rugby union side. But the diminutive livewire wasted little time in snaring a black-and-
white jumper after switching codes in 2017.

The NSW star played six Tests for the Wallaroos and also represented the Australian Sevens team.
Gisborne-born Maynard’s efforts for the Cronulla Sharks in 2017 were enough to secure a place in
the Kiwi Ferns’ Rugby League World Cup squad. She nailed down the No.14 spot – providing hooker
and halves coverage – and featured in the valiant loss to the Jillaroos in the final.

Maynard earned a contract with Sydney Roosters for the inaugural 2018 NRLW premiership, playing
all four games for the eventual runners-up. She then started at hooker in New Zealand’s 26-24 loss
to Australia in Auckland.

With Krystal Rota back in the No.9, Maynard reverted to the bench for the Ferns’ mid-2019 clash
with Fetu Samoa. But she starred in 50 minutes of game-time, racking up 97 metres and 22 tackles
as well as scoring a try.

The 27-year-old started all three matches at hooker for the Roosters in the 2019 NRLW – averaging
38 tackles – before scoring the match-winning try in the Kiwi Ferns’ upset of the Jillaroos in the
World Cup Nines final. Maynard made a busy 15-minute contribution off the bench in the
subsequent Test loss to Australia in Wollongong.

Maynard backed up for a third NRLW Premiership campaign with the Roosters in 2020, again lining up at hooker in each of the club’s matches – including the grand final loss to the Broncos.

Hardworking winger Madison Bartlett courageously battled back from a wretched run with injury to
make her Test and NRLW debuts in 2019.

Hailing from Wairoa, Bartlett is a sporting all-rounder – representing North Harbour in Sevens Rugby
and basketball, as well as playing for New Zealand in tough rugby and tag at international level –
who began playing rugby league in 2016.

But a succession of shoulder dislocations, followed by surgery on both shoulders in 2018, halted her
progress.

Bartlett returned to the field in 2019, however, featuring in Richmond Roses’ loss in the Auckland
club grand final before winning Kiwi Ferns selection on the flank for the mid-season clash with Fetu
Samoa. She scored a second-half try and racked up two line-breaks, a try-assist and 82 running
metres in a 46-8 win.

The 24-year-old played two matches of the Warriors’ 2019 NRLW campaign, debuting in the 16-12
Round 1 win over the Roosters and scoring a try in the 10-8 upset of the Broncos in Round 3.
Bartlett was subsequently selected in New Zealand’s World Cup Nines squad and played in the
classic final victory over Australia.

One of the few New Zealand-based players to venture to Australia for the 2020 NRLW Premiership, Bartlett played all three of the Warriors’ game on the wing and bagged a try in an impressive display as they toppled the Dragons. Bartlett was one of four NRLW players named in the Kiwi Ferns’ wider squad but she did not play in the match against Fetu Samoa.

Annetta-Claudia Nuuasala joined her older brother, 15-Test Kiwi Frank-Paul, in becoming a regular in
the New Zealand team.

The Marist tyro received her first big break in 2016, when the 21-year-old was part of the Kiwi Ferns’
squad at the NRL Auckland Nines. Three months later Nuuausala was lining up in the second-row
against the Jillaroos on Test debut, racking up 127 metres in a 26-16 victory.

Nuuausala scored a try in a 38-0 shutout of Papua New Guinea and came off the bench in a 52-4
semi-final rout of England at the 2017 Rugby League World Cup, but she did not play in the final.
After performing a big-hitting role in the Warriors’ historic win over Sydney Roosters in the first-ever
NRLW match in 2018, she returned to the Kiwi Ferns’ starting pack.

The bruising forward scored a try in a standout interchange appearance as New Zealand went down
26-24 to Australia in Auckland.

Nuuausala turned out in Richmond Roses’ 2019 Auckland grand final loss before featuring at prop in
the Kiwi Ferns’ 46-8 mid-season win over Samoa. She subsequently played all three games of the
Warriors’ NRLW campaign, averaging over 90 metres a game.

The 24-year-old retained her front-row position for the post-season Test against the Jillaroos,
making 95 metres and 18 tackles in a wholehearted display.

Kiwi Ferns regular Maitua Feterika mix of powerhouse ball-running out wide and ferocious defence
has marked her as one of women’s rugby league’s most dynamic players.

A Samoa rep in rugby league and rugby union, and a member of the all-conquering Counties-
Manukau side in the NZRL National Women’s Competition, Feterika received a debut Kiwi Ferns call-
up in 2014. She played on the wing in a 12-8 win over Australia, a match played as a curtain-raiser to
the Kangaroo-Samoa Four Nations clash in Wollongong.

The 22-year-old was one of the stars of the Kiwi Ferns’ inaugural NRL Auckland Nines series against
the Jillaroos, best remembered for her crunching cover tackle on Australian superstar Sam Bremner.
Feterika came off the bench in the 2015 Anzac Test loss and started at centre as the Kiwi Ferns won
the corresponding clash a year later, scoring a try in each match. She also dotted down against
Papua New Guinea and in the semi-final thrashing of England at the 2017 Rugby League World Cup,
before again featuring at centre in the defeat to Australia in the final.

The wrecking ball was snapped up by Brisbane Broncos ahead of the inaugural NRLW premiership in
2018, playing all four games in the club’s dominant campaign and starting in the second-row in the
34-12 victory over Sydney Roosters in the grand final.

Feterika was utilised in the front-row after switching to St George Illawarra Dragons in 2019 but
suffered grand final defeat at the hands of her former club.

She scored a try in the Kiwi Ferns’ 2018-19 end-of-year losses to the Jillaroos, starting at centre and
coming off the bench respectively. Feterika scored a barnstorming try in the 2018 clash and led the
New Zealand forwards with 121 metres in the latter encounter.

One of the stars of Counties Manukau’s capture of the inaugural Sky Sports NZRL National Women’s Premiership title, Feterika played in the second-row of a new-look Kiwi Ferns line-up and typically dominated on both side of the ball in a 28-8 win over Fetu Samoa.

A compact second-rower also capable of playing in the centres, former Black Ferns and Auckland
rugby union star Leiataua became a dual-code international before she turned 23.

The Papatoetoe High product gave rugby league her full attention in 2018 and used a starring role in
Counties-Manukau’s NZRL National Women’s Competition triumph as a springboard to a spot in the
Warriors’ inaugural NRLW premiership squad.

Leiataua played all six of the Warriors’ games in the 2018-19 seasons – averaging 100 running
metres per outing – and scored her side’s only try against St George Illawarra during the latter
campaign.

She made her Kiwi Ferns Test debut in the late-2018 trans-Tasman Test loss to the Jillaroos, making
83 metres and 26 tackles after starting in the second-row.

Leiataua featured prominently in New Zealand’s World Cup Nines triumph in 2019 – making several
powerful charges in the upset of Australia in the final – and was a second-row starter against the
Jillaroos again as the Ferns went down in Wollongong a week later

The 24-year-old represented Samoa in rugby league – against the Kiwi Ferns at Mt Smart Stadium – and rugby union in 2020.

Following in the footsteps of revered Kiwi Ferns fullback stalwart Sarina Fiso, Apii Nicholls has developed into a superstar of women’s rugby league since making her international debut in 2017.

A long-time Cook Islands Rugby Sevens rep, Nicholls exploded onto the rugby league scene in 2017. The Otahuhu Leopards junior won an ARL grand final with Manurewa Marlins – playing on the wing with Fiso at fullback – and featured in Counties-Manukau’s NZRL National Women’s Competition success, before getting a Kiwi Ferns call-up for the World Cup.

With Fiso unavailable for the RLWC, clubmate Nicholls took possession of the New Zealand No.1 jumper. She played four of New Zealand’s five games at the tournament, scoring a try on debut against Canada and starring in the gallant defeat to Australia in the final. The gutsy custodian was later named the Kiwi Ferns’ Player of the Year.

Nicholls was a key recruit for the Warriors’ inaugural women’s squad and has played all six of the club’s NRLW games to date, averaging 75 metres and kicking seven goals.

The 25-year-old was magnificent in the Kiwi Ferns’ 26-24 end-of-season Test loss, racking up 131 metres, a try-assist and two goals.

Switching to Papakura Sisters in 2019, Nicholls’ influence on the representative scene was no less striking. The police constable scored a try and a goal in the Kiwi Ferns’ 46-8 win over Fetu Samoa and was solid at the back in the Test loss to Australia either side of playing an integral role in New Zealand’s World Cup Nines triumph.

Nicholls joined Richmond Roses in 2020, scored two tries in three Sky Sports NZRL National Women’s Premiership matches for Akarana Falcons and was named in the Kiwi Ferns’ wider squad ahead of the clash with Fetu Samoa, but she did not play in the Test.

Richmond Roses centre/second-rower Crystal Tamarua has become a regular in the Kiwi Ferns’ pack
in recent seasons.

The 21-year-old debuted in the 2017 Anzac Test loss to the Jillaroos, but she went on to represent
Cook Islands at the World Cup at the end of the season.

Tamarua, who also turned out for Akarana in the NZRL National Women’s Competition, was part of
the Kiwi Ferns’ wider squad in 2018 but did not play a Test. However, she did earn a place in the
Warriors’ inaugural NRLW squad and made a solid impression in the front-row in their loss to St
George Illawarra.

She was a standout off the bench in the Kiwi Ferns’ mid-2019 clash with Fetu Samoa, racking up 85
running metres in the 46-8 victory. After featuring in a third straight Auckland grand final loss with
the Roses, Tamarua backed up for a second NRLW campaign and started all three of the Warriors’
matches in the second-row.

Tamarua was subsequently one of New Zealand’s most effective forwards in the World Cup Nines
final defeat of Australia, before notching 70 metres and 26 tackles in a wholehearted second-row
performance as the Kiwi Ferns went down to the Jillaroos in the Wollongong-hosted Test.

One of only five New Zealand-based players to venture to Australia for the Warriors’ 2020 NRLW campaign, Tamarua started at prop in all three of the club’s matches and averaged 87 metres and 18 tackles. She was one of just two NRLW players to return home for the Kiwi Ferns’ clash with Fetu Samoa, starting in the second-row and charging 40 metres for the final try of their 28-8 win at Mt Smart Stadium.

Long-serving Counties Manukau rep Aieshaleigh Smalley broke into the Kiwi Ferns squad for the
2017 Rugby League World Cup.
A Manukau Rovers junior, Smalley was still a teenager when she first played provincial rugby league
for Counties Manukau and later joined Otahuhu Leopards.

The 26-year-old played three matches for New Zealand at the 2017 World Cup – including a front-
row start in the loss to Australia in the final – after receiving her maiden call-up.
Smalley represented Tonga at the Commonwealth Championship in early-2018 before featuring in
the inaugural NRLW premiership for the Warriors. Her bruising defence was integral to the Warriors’
epic win over the Roosters in the first-ever NRLW fixture, while she averaged 81 metres and 16
tackles in playing all three matches that season.

The dynamic prop was part of the Kiwi Ferns’ line-ups that went down narrowly to the Jillaroos in
the 2018 post-season Test and swamped Fetu Samoa midway through 2019.
Smalley backed up for the second NRLW campaign and was typically industrious in her two
appearances against the Roosters and Dragons. She was subsequently named in New Zealand’s
World Cup Nines and Test squads but was ultimately a non-playing member of the team for both
events.

After featuring in Counties Manukau’s victorious Sky Sports NZRL National Women’s Premiership campaign in 2020, Smalley represented Fetu Samoa in their 28-8 loss to the Kiwi Ferns at Mt Smart Stadium.

Wily hooker Krystal Rota has developed into one of the most prominent players in women’s rugby league and one of New Zealand’s genuine leaders in recent years.

As a promising 22-year-old Rota – the daughter of highly-regarded form Otahuhu centre Roger – made the Kiwi Ferns’ training squad for the first time but missed out on the 2008 Rugby League World Cup team.

After taking a three-year break from the game, Rota earned a breakthrough call-up for the inaugural Kiwi Ferns v Jillaroos series at the 2015 NRL Auckland Nines. Three months later she debuted off the bench in New Zealand’s Anzac Test loss to Australia.

Rota was promoted to the No.9 jersey for the corresponding Anzac Test clash in 2016, scoring a try in the Kiwi Ferns’ 26-16 victory in Newcastle. She retained her spot for the 2017 Anzac Test loss to Australia.

The dynamic dummy-half was named Auckland Women’s Player of the Year in 2017 after helping Manurewa to premiership success and overcame an eye injury suffered in the grand final to take her place in New Zealand’s RLWC squad.

Rota was a mainstay during the tournament and featured at hooker in the Ferns’ gallant defeat to the Jillaroos in the thrilling final.

A key member of the all-conquering Counties-Manukau provincial team, Rota joined Papakura Sisters in 2018. She then played all three games in the Warriors’ historic NRLW campaign.

Rota was named co-captain for the Māori All Stars’ inaugural encounter with the Indigenous All Stars during the 2019 pre-season. The 33-year-old scored the winning try and received the Trish Hina Medal as player of the match. She contributed 19 tackles and 94 running metres to the Kiwi Ferns’ mid-season win over Samoa.

Another grand final triumph with Papakura followed, while Rota was one of the Warriors’ standouts in the 2019 NRLW. She again played all three games and averaged 30 tackles and 80 metres, as well as producing two try-assists.

Rota starred in the Kiwi Ferns’ World Cup Nines success and was at hooker again for the subsequent Test loss to the Jillaroos in Wollongong.

The veteran’s leadership qualities came to the fore in 2020. After leading Māori All Stars against Indigenous All Stars for the second straight season, Rota skippered Counties Manukau to glory in the inaugural Sky Sports NZRL National Women’s Premiership. She was then named Kiwi Ferns captain for the end-of-season Test against Fetu Samoa, producing a typically strong performance at hooker in New Zealand’s 28-8 victory.

A Canterbury star in both rugby codes, Charntay Poko’s shift to the ARL club scene in 2019 catapulted her into the Kiwi Ferns and Warriors NRLW line-ups.

The slick playmaker was a linchpin of the dominant Papanui Tigers side in the Canterbury Rugby League women’s premiership, as well as simultaneously representing her province in the 13- and 15-a-side games.

Poko was named in the Warriors’ inaugural squad in 2018, but she was ruled out of the campaign after it was revealed she had two broken tibias – stress fractures that had developed into full breaks.

But she recovered in time for the 2019 ARL club season, flying from Christchurch to Auckland every week to play for Richmond Roses, including their grand final loss to Papakura Sisters. Poko kicked four goals and produced a try-assist on Test debut in the Kiwi Ferns’ mid-season defeat of Fetu Samoa.

The 23-year-old was then one of the standouts of the 2019 NRLW premiership. Immediately garnering attention for her prodigious kicking game, Poko booted a 40-30 that led to the Warriors’ first try in the Round 1 win over Sydney Roosters. She was nominated for the Dally M Women’s Player of the Year award.

Poko was part of New Zealand’s victorious World Cup Nines squad, while she retained the No.6 jersey for the subsequent Test loss to Australia.

Sydenham Swans benefitted from Poko’s return to the CRL women’s competition in 2020, surging to a convincing grand final win over Woolston Rams on the back of her classy ball-playing, powerful running game and goalkicking. She was selected in the New Zealand Universities and Tertiary Students Rugby League side at the end of the year.

NZ Touch representative Atawhai Tupaea has been one of the Kiwi Ferns’ mainstays – and most
potent try-scorers – since making her debut against the Jillaroos in 2014. The 25-year-old scored a
crucial try with 10 minutes to go as New Zealand pulled off a thrilling 12-8 win in that Test. She was
subsequently named the NZRL Women’s Player of the Year.

A member of the Kiwi Ferns squad at all three NRL Auckland Nines tournaments from 2015-17, the
powerful outside-back featured in the Anzac Test in each of those seasons. She bagged a double in
the 26-16 victory in 2016 and crossed for New Zealand’s sole try in the 16-4 loss a year later.
Tupaea played in all five matches of the Kiwi Ferns’ 2017 Rugby League World Cup campaign, scoring
tries in pool wins over Canada and Papua New Guinea.

She had a break from the game to have her second child but made a remarkable comeback in 2019.
Exclusively a winger at Test level, Tupaea starred at fullback in Papakura Sisters’ ARL grand final win,
won an NZRL National Competition with Counties-Manukau and lined up at centre in all three
matches of the Warriors’ sophomore NRLW season.

Tupaea dotted down for a match-sealing try in a momentous win over the Roosters, while she
averaged 18.7 tackles and 68.3 metres across the Warriors’ three outings.
The 30-year-old was part of New Zealand’s World Cup Nines-winning squad and returned to the Kiwi
Ferns’ Test line-up on the flank for their loss to the Jillaroos in Wollongong

A classy performer in the halves with the versatility and work-rate to play hooker or lock, Georgia Hale has become one of women’s rugby league’s most recognisable – and through her community work at the Warriors, hardest-working – figures over the past five years.

A New Zealand touch and tag-football rep, Hale was 18th player for the Kiwi Ferns in their 2014 Test against the Jillaroos at just 19 years of age. A few months later she featured in the historic Kiwi Ferns-Jillaroos series at the 2015 NRL Auckland Nines.

Hale made her Test debut off the bench in the 2015 Anzac Test loss. The gifted playmaker was the linchpin of the Kiwi Ferns’ 2016-17 Auckland Nines campaigns and wore the No.6 in the Anzac Test both seasons.

Named vice-captain for the 2017 Rugby League World Cup soon after turning 22, Hale featured in pool wins over Canada and Papua New Guinea, and the semi-final demolition of England. But she was an unlucky omission from the game-day 17 for the final against Australia.

The Richmond stalwart – playing in all three of the Roses’ 2017-19 ARL grand final losses – and Akarana Falcons rep was part of the Warriors’ squad for the inaugural NRLW premiership in 2018. She started all three games at halfback for the Warriors, before coming off the bench in the Kiwi Ferns’ end-of-season Test loss to the Jillaroos.

The courageous Hale returned to New Zealand’s starting line-up for the mid-season Test against Fetu Samoa in 2019, racking up 29 tackles and 122 metres from lock in the 46-8 win.

Named Warriors captain for their sophomore NRLW campaign, Hale switched to the No.13 jersey for the Warriors’ first two games and scored their opening try in the win over Sydney Roosters. She reverted to five-eighth for the Warriors’ final match – a stunning 10-8 upset of eventual champs Brisbane. The 24-year-old averaged 69 metres and 36 tackles across the three games.

After playing a key role in the Kiwi Ferns’ World Cup Nines triumph (she made a team-high 57 metres in the upset of the Jillaroos in the final), Hale was at lock again in the subsequent Test loss to Australia in Wollongong.

Already named a Kiwibank Local Hero Medal recipient and the New Zealand representative player of the year at the RLPA Players’ Champion awards, Hale’s contribution to rugby league and community initiatives for children and people with disabilities was further recognised when she was honoured as the 2019 Young New Zealander of the Year.

The inspirational Hale – one of just five New Zealand-based players to head to Australia for the 2020 NRLW premiership – was appointed the Warriors’ captain, starring in the No.13 jersey in all three of the club’s games and averaging 39 tackles and 68 metres. She was awarded the Veronica White Medal on NRL Grand Final day for her exceptional off-field work.

Honey Hireme’s standing among women’s rugby league’s all-time greats was assured many years ago. Her tenure in the Kiwi Ferns jersey – which includes four World Cups – spans 18 seasons, while she was named in NRL.com’s Women’s Rugby League Team of the Decade (2010s) and appointed a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit for her services to the game in 2019.

Born in Putaruru, Waikato, Hireme first represented New Zealand against New Zealand Māori in a non-Test match in 2002. The 22-year-old scored 10 tries at the following year’s World Cup, including a double in the 58-0 defeat of New Zealand Māori in the final, and was named in the Team of the Tournament.

Kiwi Ferns fixtures were scarce in the ensuing years, but the blockbusting centre was one of several players to back up for their successful World Cup title defence in 2008.

Hireme, who by now was representing Counties-Manukau, captained the Kiwi Ferns at the 2013 World Cup, where they relinquished their crown to Australia via a 22-12 loss in the final. Despite the defeat, Hireme was named Player of the Tournament after scoring seven tries in four games (including five against France).

A New Zealand Rugby Sevens rep, Hireme made her rugby union Test debut for the Black Ferns at the 2014 World Cup. Three months later she co-captained the Kiwi Ferns to victory over the Jillaroos in Wollongong.

After turning out for the Kiwi Ferns at the 2017 NRL Auckland Nines, Hireme ended a three-year absence from the Test rugby league arena at that year’s World Cup. The Papakura Sisters star played four matches on the wing and was the tournament’s top try-scorer with 13 – more than double her closest rival. Hireme scored six tries in the pool-stage thrashing of Cook Islands, a hat-trick in the semi-final defeat of England and a brilliant first-half double in the gallant loss to Australia in the final.

Hireme was snapped up by St George Illawarra for the inaugural NRLW premiership, playing all three of the Dragons’ games and averaging 129 metres. She was outstanding in New Zealand’s subsequent Test loss to Australia in Auckland, making three line-breaks and a game-high 214 metres in the 26-24 thriller as she showcased her trademark speed, power and fend.

Hireme was named 2018 Kiwi Ferns Player of the Year, following on from NZRL Women’s Player of the Year nods she received in 2007 and 2012.

Having returned to the Waikato – playing for Hamilton City Tigers and representing Wai-Coa-Bay at the NZRL National Women’s Tournament – Hireme was named Kiwi Ferns captain for the mid-2019 Test against Fetu Samoa. She scored two tries and again ran for over 200 metres in the 46-8 win.

Hireme signed with the Warriors but sat out the 2019 NRLW campaign to be with her terminally ill mother, Caryn, who passed away on September 25. Just weeks later she was named the inaugural Veronica White Medal winner for her outstanding contribution to the community through rugby league and returned to the field to lead the Kiwi Ferns to World Cup Nines glory; Hireme scored four tries and was named in the Team of the Tournament.

The inspirational 38-year-old was a shining light in the Kiwi Ferns’ 28-8 Test loss to the Jillaroos in Wollongong, scoring their only try of the second half and running for a team-high 127 metres.

Injury ruled Hireme out of the Warriors’ 2020 NRLW campaign but she was integral to Upper Central Stallions’ capture of the inaugural NZRL National Women’s Championship title. She then farewelled the black-and-white jersey with a trademark barnstorming try in the Kiwi Ferns’ 28-8 victory over Fetu Samoa at Mt Smart Stadium, announcing her retirement – and the end of an unparalleled women’s rugby league career – the following day.

Carmen Taplin – NZRL Wellbeing Manager

Ben Soole – Team Doctor

Sophie Wills – NZRL Comms & Marketing Manager
Kiwi Ferns Media Manager

Luisa Avaiki Tavesivesi – Assistant Coach

CRAIG PRIEST – Digital Content Manager

SCOTT JOHNSON – Sports Science

LAURIE HALE – Logistics Manager

JAMES WRIGHT – Leadership & HP Coach

PATRICK WILLIAMS – Physiotherapist

KENNY MICHALOPOULOS – Physiotherapist

LEIGH RICHARDSON – Analyst

SAM MAYHEW – Team Doctor

RICHARD BECHT – Media Manager

SEAN EDWARDS – Head Trainer

DARYL HALLIGAN – Kicking Coach

STACEY JONES – Assistant Coach

Benjamin Gardiner – Assistant Coach

NADENE CONLON – Kiwis & National Teams Manager

Cook Islands rep Esan Marsters broke into the New Zealand Test team a little more than a year after his NRL debut for Wests Tigers.

The Mount Albert Lions product initially crossed the Tasman to play for Sydney Roosters’ SG Ball team in 2014, before scoring 24 tries in 39 under-20s games for the Tigers in 2015-16. At just 18, he turned out for Cook Islands against Tonga at the end of 2015, while he represented the Junior Kiwis the following season.

The big-bodied centre crossed for a try in Cook Islands’ 32-22 Pacific Test loss to Papua New Guinea in May 2017 and was called up for his maiden taste of first grade less than a month later. Boasting impressive footwork for his size and tremendous power, he scored five tries in 13 rookie-season outings for the Tigers.

Marsters assumed the Tigers’ goalkicking duties in 2018 and was one of seven debutants named for New Zealand’s Denver Test assignment against England. He marked the occasion with a try as one of the Kiwis’ standout performers in the 36-18 loss.

The 22-year-old retained a centre spot for all four post-season Tests against Australia and England, dotting down again in the 26-24 upset of the Kangaroos at Mt Smart and the series-opening loss in Hull. Marsters averaged a staggering 155 run metres across his five international outings in 2018.

Marsters slotted five goals in the Kiwis’ 34-14 defeat of Tonga midway through 2019. Although he played all 24 games for the Tigers for the second straight season – again topping 100 points – Marsters was ruled out of the end-of-year Tests with injury, while he was granted a release to join North Queensland ahead of 2020.

He represented Māori All Stars against Indigenous All Stars during the 2020 pre-season but was restricted to 12 NRL appearances in a tough transition season at the Cowboys, before linking with Gold Coast Titans midway through 2021.

 

A highly valued and ultra-consistent member of Sydney Roosters’ engine-room despite lacking the profile of many of his clubmates, Isaac Liu represented Samoa before becoming a regular in the New Zealand Test team.

The Otahuhu Leopards junior arrived in Sydney via celebrated Gold Coast rugby league nursery Keebra Park State High School, playing for Wests Tigers NYC team in 2010 and the Roosters’ under-20s in 2011.

Liu made his NRL debut for the star-studded Roosters in 2013, racking up 15 rookie-season appearances. The 22-year-old came off the bench in the club’s preliminary final win over Newcastle but missed out on the final 17 that won the following week’s grand final.

The hardworking prop/back-rower became a permanent pick in Roosters coach Trent Robinson’s squad from 2014. He debuted for Toa Samoa against Fiji mid-season, before playing all three matches of their spirited Four Nations campaign against England, New Zealand and Australia.

Liu represented Samoa against Tonga midway through 2015 and played an underrated role in a third straight Roosters minor premiership. He was selected in New Zealand’s squad to tour England at the end of the year but was not called upon for any of the three Tests.

Full Kiwi honours came two years later when Liu was picked for the Rugby League World Cup. He made a tryscoring debut off the bench in the pool win over Toa Samoa and featured as an interchange in subsequent losses to Mate Ma’a Tonga and Fiji.

Liu was a non-playing member of the 19-man Kiwis squad for the 2018 Denver Test against England, but he started in the second-row in all four post-season Tests against Australia and England, scoring a try in the 34-0 victory over the latter at Elland Road. He lined up in the No.13 jersey as New Zealand defeated Tonga at Mt Smart Stadium the following season.

By now a genuine leader at the Roosters – and predominantly playing as a middle forward – ‘Ice’ collected a pair of NRL premiership rings after the club’s back-to-back grand final triumphs in 2018-19. Liu’s sixth straight season of making 22-plus first-grade appearances took him past the 150-game mark for the Tricolours in 2019.

A knee injury ruled the 28-year-old out of the Kiwis’ 2019 end-of-year campaign.

Liu played 19 of the Roosters’ 22 games in 2020, averaging 27 tackles and 106 metres as one of the injury-hit champs’ most reliable performers.

A mainstay as the Roosters battled a shocking injury toll in 2021, Liu started all 26 of his team’s matches and passed the 200-game milestone for the club – just the 11th player to do so. The Roosters’ semi-final exit, the 19th playoffs game of Liu’s career, would be his last outing for the club ahead of a move to Gold Coast Titans at the end of the year.

Liu was named in the Kiwis’ wider squad for the 2022 Rugby League World Cup.

 

 

Puti Tipene (Steve) Watene was a rugby league pioneer during the 1930s, becoming the first Māori to captain the Kiwis. More than 80 years later, the NZRL Legend of League’s great grandson, Dallin Watene-Zelezniak, became the Kiwis’ skipper just a month after his 23rd birthday.

Born in Hamilton and spending his early years in Ngaruawahia, Watene-Zelezniak’s family moved to Sydney when he was five. The prodigiously talented outside-back joined Penrith and scored 23 tries in 25 games for the club’s under-20s side, winning an NYC grand final and representing the Junior Kiwis in 2013.

The 18-year-old was drafted into the Panthers’ NRL line-up the following season. He scored seven tries in 10 games on the wing and starred in the Ivan Cleary-coached outfit’s finals campaign. A strong follow-up season at wing, centre and fullback in 2015 was cut short by injury in July, ruling out a likely Kiwis call-up for the end-of-year tour to England.

But ‘DWZ’ did not have long to wait for a Test debut, featuring on the wing in New Zealand’s 16-0 Anzac Test loss in 2016. After being at forefront of the Panthers’ semi-final charge that season – scoring 12 tries in 26 games – he made just one appearance during the Four Nations, starting at fullback in the shock draw with Scotland.

The freakish flyer played on the wing in the 2017 Anzac Test and was named in the Kiwis’ World Cup squad at the end of the year. Watene-Zelezniak scored his first Test try in the pool match against Mate Ma’a Tonga – fittingly, in Hamilton – but he endured a torrid afternoon at the hands of his opposing winger, Tonga’s hat-trick hero David Fustiu’a, in the historic 28-22 loss.

With Roger Tuivasa-Sheck unavailable, Watene-Zelezniak scored two tries from fullback in a superb display as New Zealand went down to England in Denver midway through 2018. He retained the No.1 jumper for the Kiwis’ post-season schedule thanks to ‘RTS’s’ knee injury and was coach Michael Maguire’s surprise choice to take over as captain.

The role inspired Watene-Zelezniak to new heights, leading by example as New Zealand scored a 26-24 upset over Australia in Auckland – including a brilliant through-the-legs pass to set up his side’s first try for Ken Maumalo. He then led the Kiwis in all three Tests of the 2-1 series defeat in England, scoring tries in losing efforts in the first two encounters.

Watene-Zelezniak bounced around the struggling Panthers’ team sheet early in 2019, before being dropped to reserve grade and seeking a release to link with Canterbury. But after just one game for the Bulldogs, he joined a select group of players who have captained a Test team from the wing as Tuivasa-Sheck returned for the mid-season showdown with Tonga. The 23-year-old helmed another momentous win as the Kiwis powered to a 34-14 result.

‘DWZ’ was magnificent at fullback for the improving Bulldogs during the second half of the season but a knee injury ended his campaign prematurely and ruled the incumbent skipper out of the Kiwis’ end-of-year schedule.

Watene-Zelezniak returned to co-captain Māori All Stars in their 30-16 win over Indigenous All Stars during the 2020 pre-season, before playing 18 games at fullback, wing and centre for the Bulldogs at club level.

After scoring a try in Māori All Stars’ 10-all draw with their Indigenous counterparts in Townsville – again as co-captain – the young veteran left Canterbury midway through the 2021 season to take up a deal with the Warriors. Watene-Zelezniak’s nine appearances for his new club took him past 150 games in the NRL, while he was named in the Kiwis’ wider squad for the 2022 World Cup at the end of the year.

Adam Blair made a habit of joining rare company during a long and decorated career. Just the second Northland product to represent New Zealand, in 2019 Blair became only the second player to bring up 50 Tests for the Kiwis and the third New Zealander to pass the 300-game milestone in the NRL.

The Northland Carvers junior and Whangarei B.H.S. pupil moved to Brisbane as a 16-year-old, playing for Melbourne Storm feeder club North Devils. Blair turned out for the Junior Kiwis in their drawn series with the Junior Kangaroos in 2003.

The athletic forward made his NRL debut for the Storm in 2006 and it took only 16 rookie-season appearances – including a grand final defeat to Brisbane – to convince Kiwis selectors he was ready for the rigours of international football. He came off the bench in four Tri-Nations matches, including the epic golden point final loss to the Kangaroos.

Injury severely restricted Blair’s football in 2007 and he missed the Kiwis’ end-of-year schedule, but he became established as a Storm regular the following season. He played in another grand final loss for Melbourne but got his hands on some silverware after featuring in all seven of the Kiwis’ 2008 Tests. Starting in the front-row in the World Cup final against Australia, Blair’s nonchalant pick-up of a loose ball to score sealed New Zealand’s euphoric 34-20 triumph.

Blair posted another four-pointer and was one of the standouts of the Storm’s 2009 grand final victory over Parramatta. He played all five of the Kiwis’ Tests in 2009 – winning the NZRL’s International Player of the Year award that year – and was a regular at prop, lock or second-row for his country until the end of 2012, including another Suncorp Stadium upset of the Aussies in the 2010 Four Nations final.

But his tenure in Melbourne ended prematurely after being rubbed out of the 2011 finals by a suspension emanating from the infamous ‘Battle of Brookvale’ clash with Manly. Blair linked with Kiwis skipper Benji Marshall at Wests Tigers in 2012, but the joint venture was on the slide and the star recruit became a target for criticism.

After missing World Cup selection in 2013, Blair produced an improved NRL campaign with the Tigers the following season and received a well-deserved recall for the Kiwis’ new-look Anzac Test line-up and successful Four Nations assault. The 28-year-old was a front-row starter in all four Four Nations matches, including dual wins over the Kangaroos and a nail-biting eclipse of Samoa in a historic Test in Blair’s hometown of Whangarei.

Revered coach Wayne Bennett lured the resurgent Blair to Brisbane in 2015 and he played a key role in the Broncos’ drive to the grand final, where they lost a golden point classic to the Cowboys. Blair was subsequently named co-captain of a youthful Kiwis squad for the tour of England, though Issac Luke skippered the side in the three Tests.

Blair was ever-present in all six of New Zealand’s 2016 Tests, as well as the following season’s Anzac Test. Midway through the year he was announced as the Kiwis’ captain for the World Cup. Blair led his country in all four matches at the tournament, but the campaign ended in a shock quarter-final loss to Fiji.

Often a polarising figure due to his sail-close-to-the-wind style of play and lack of output in key statistical areas, Blair’s value as a player and leader is illustrated by the calibre of coaches who have clamoured for his services at club and rep level, and the esteem he is held in by teammates.

The skilful enforcer returned to his homeland in 2018 to take up a four-year contract with the Warriors and was instrumental to the club’s long-awaited return to the playoffs. His streak of 14 consecutive matches for the Kiwis was broken when suspension ruled him out of the Denver Test against England, but he was available at the end of the season and featured in a record-equalling fifth victory over Australia and two matches against England.

After skippering the Māori All Stars in a historic pre-season encounter with the Indigenous All Stars, Blair brought up his 300th NRL appearance in 2019 – following Ruben Wiki and Simon Mannering as the only Kiwis to achieve the milestone – and illustrated his durability by extending his run of playing 22 or more games to 12 consecutive seasons.

Left out of the mid-season Test against Tonga, the 33-year-old put an otherwise disappointing club campaign behind him with late call-ups to New Zealand’s World Cup Nines and Test squads. Blair started at lock in the loss to Australia in Wollongong, before being honoured after the first Test win over Great Britain at Eden Park for earning his 50th Test cap – again following in the footsteps, his first New Zealand captain. He also came off the bench in the Kiwis’ series-sealing defeat of the Lions in Christchurch.

Extending his Test career-span to 14 seasons also put Blair in rarefied air – only Kurt Sorensen and long-time international teammate Marshall (15) boast a longer tenure in the black-and-white jersey in terms of time.

After playing an inspirational role as co-captain in Māori All Stars’ 30-16 win over Indigenous All Stars during the 2020 pre-season, Blair broke Wiki’s record for the most appearances by a non-Australian in the Australian premiership (since eclipsed by Benji Marhsall). He played every game for the Warriors in an outstanding season form-wise while also providing vital leadership throughout the club’s arduous campaign based on the Central Coast amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The much-admired 34-year-old announced his retirement prior to the Warriors’ final-round win over Manly in Gosford – the 331st match of Blair’s career.

 

Bailey Simonsson’s decision to return to rugby league at the end of 2018 garnered an NRL grand final appearance with Canberra and a Kiwis call-up within 12 months.

The son of Paul Simonsson, a Waikato rugby union winger and 1987 All Black who switched codes with the North Sydney Bears, Bailey was born in Sydney. He played junior football for West Belconnen Warriors, near Canberra, before spending two seasons with Canterbury Bulldogs’ NYC team.

Simonsson moved to New Zealand in 2018, turning out for Bay of Plenty in the Mitre 10 Cup and winning in a spot in the All Blacks Sevens team. But the Raiders lured Simonsson back to the 13-a-side game and he provided valuable depth at wing, centre and fullback.

The 21-year-old scored eight tries in 21 NRL appearances in 2019 and came off the bench in the Raiders’ brave 14-8 grand final loss to Sydney Roosters.

Simonsson was subsequently named in the New Zealand squads for the World Cup Nines and post-season Tests. He scored tries in pool victories over Papua New Guinea – a freakish late match-winner – and Samoa at the Nines, before featuring in final loss to Australia. The rookie missed out on the match-day 17 for the three subsequent Tests against the Kangaroos and Lions.

Securing a Raiders wing spot early in 2020, Simonsson crossed for two tries in seven games before a shoulder injury prematurely ended his sophomore NRL campaign in July.

The 23-year-old bounced back impressively in 2021, making 17 appearances for Canberra at wing and fullback. He scored six tries – including a hat-trick in a loss to Melbourne Storm – before being named in the Kiwis’ wider squad for the World Cup at the end of the season.

Given Brandon Smith was called into the New Zealand squad before he had played an NRL game, his rapid rise to Test honours after he became a Melbourne Storm regular was hardly surprising.

Waiheke Island born-and-bred, Smith moved to Townsville after older brother Dylan secured an under-20s contract with North Queensland. Brandon attended Kirwan State High School and eventually progressed to the Cowboys’ NYC ranks himself, scoring 30 tries in 44 games in 2015-16. He represented the Junior Kiwis and was named at hooker in the NYC Team of the Year in 2016.

Smith was snapped up by the Storm, who earmarked him as a potential successor to legendary No.9 Cameron Smith. The 20-year-old caused a stir by being selected in the Kiwis’ 20-man Anzac Test squad in 2017, though he was not named in the final 17. An NRL debut soon followed, coming off the bench three times for Melbourne during the taxing representative period and scoring two tries.

Stocky and powerful with excellent speed out of dummy-half, Smith’s skill-set was easily transferrable to the back-row and he became a permanent fixture on the defending premiers’ bench. After 18 top-grade appearances in 2018 (but only one start) and a grand final runner-up medal following the Storm’s loss to the Roosters, he was chosen at hooker for New Zealand’s post-season clash with Australia in Auckland.

Smith produced one of the most memorable of all Kiwi Test debuts. He powered over for a second-half try and was narrowly denied another by the video referee that would have sealed the result, before the hosts held on for a nail-biting 26-24 victory – the Kiwis’ first over the Kangaroos in four years. Smith’s energy, determination and passionate celebrations were just as eye-catching as his ability to get over the try-line, while his tearful post-match embrace with family was one of the most enduring images of a momentous night.

The dynamic tyro subsequently wore the No.9 jersey in all three Tests on the Kiwis’ tour of England, while he featured for the Māori All Stars in their historic clash with the Indigenous All Stars during the 2019 pre-season.

Though his path to a spot in the Storm’s starting line-up was blocked by Cameron Smith and rep back-rowers Felise Kaufusi, Kenny Bromwich and Dale Finucane, Brandon Smith became an increasingly integral part of Craig Bellamy’s game-plan and he racked up 23 first-grade games in 2019.

Smith was one of the standouts of the Kiwis’ 34-14 mid-season defeat of Mate Ma’a Tonga. He scored a sensational 30-metre solo try from dummy-half to open the scoring and made another barnstorming break before kicking ahead for Roger Tuivasa-Sheck to dot down for the first try of the second half, finishing with 127 running metres, 10 tackle-breaks and 40 tackles in a mighty all-round display.

The 23-year-old was well-contained in the Kiwis’ 26-4 post-season loss to the Kangaroos in Wollongong, while he was a late scratching from the first Test against Great Britain at Eden Park after breaching team protocol. But Smith was reinstated at hooker for the second Test in Christchurch and was typically industrious in a 23-8 win.

Smith started 2020 in scorching form, scoring two late tries in a man-of-the-match performance for Māori All Stars in their 30-16 win over Indigenous All Stars on the Gold Coast.

Featuring at prop, hooker and off the bench for Melbourne, Smith – nicknamed ‘Hectic Cheese’ and rapidly becoming one of the NRL’s genuine personality players – collected a premiership ring following the Storm’s grand final victory over Penrith Panthers.

Following Cameron Smith’s retirement, the 25-year-old warded off the challenge of brilliant youngster Harry Grant for the Storm’s No.9 jersey and played a career-high 24 games in 2021. He scored 12 tries and got over the stripe in eight consecutive games during a remarkable mid-season streak, starting games at hooker before shifting to a running forward role when Grant entered the fray off the bench.

Smith was named in the Kiwis’ wider squad for the 2022 World Cup and collected the Dally M Hooker of the Year award after Melbourne bowed out in the preliminary final against Penrith, with the Storm’s cause hindered by their influential dummy-half’s early HIA exit.

Athletic Wellington product Joseph Tapine became a New Zealand back-row regular after joining Canberra in 2016.

The Harbour City Eagles junior was an 18-year-old winger for Wellington Orcas in the NZRL’s National Competition, before taking up a contract with Newcastle. He played 39 games for the Knights’ under-20s team in 2013-14, representing the Junior Kiwis both years and breaking through for seven NRL appearances off the bench during the latter season.

Tapine made another 13 top-grade appearances in 2015 and featured in Newcastle’s NSW Cup grand final win at centre. The in-demand tyro was released by the Knights to take up a lucrative deal with the Raiders late in the 2016 pre-season.

The 22-year-old became a permanent interchange fixture for the high-flying Green Machine as the club surged to a preliminary final. He was subsequently named in the Kiwis’ Four Nations tour squad, debuting off the bench in an inauspicious draw with Scotland and retaining his spot for the loss to Australia in the final.

Tapine was chosen in New Zealand’s 2017 Rugby League World Cup squad and started in the second-row in all four matches, scoring his maiden Test try in the 74-6 rout of Scotland in Christchurch.

By now a regular starter for the Raiders at second-row or lock, Tapine endured an injury-hit 2018 campaign but played in the Kiwis’ midyear clash with England in Denver and came off the bench in two of the three Tests in England at the end of the year. He scored a try in the 34-0 dead-rubber victory at Leeds.

Tapine represented the Māori All Stars against the Indigenous All Stars during the 2019 pre-season and was a non-playing member of the Kiwis’ extended squad for the mid-season Test against Tonga. Though he was allowed to play in the World Cup Nines tournament, a one-match suspension for a high tackle in the Raiders’ grand final loss to the Roosters ruled Tapine out of contention for the Test against the Kangaroos in Wollongong.

But the aggressive, hard-running forward was recalled to Michael Maguire’s New Zealand line-up at lock for both Tests against the touring Great Britain Lions. He was especially impressive in the second encounter in Christchurch, racking up 112 metres, 39 tackles, three tackle-breaks and two offloads in a 23-8 victory

Producing arguably his best and most consistent campaign at NRL level in 2020, Tapine averaged 125 metres and 31 tackles per game as the Raiders reached the preliminary final – as well as making his 100th appearance for the club.

A lifeline from Sydney Roosters in 2017 sparked a career renaissance for rugged front-rower Zane Tetevano that ultimately garnered a Kiwis Test debut a week before his 29th birthday.

The Tokoroa product and New Zealand age-group rep joined Newcastle in 2008, playing 59 under-20s games across three seasons and representing Cook Islands at the Pacific Cup. Tetevano earned his NRL spurs as a 20-year-old in 2011, played for Cook Islands at the 2013 World Cup and had racked up 29 NRL appearances for the Knights before being cut adrift by the club for disciplinary reasons midway through 2014.

Tetevano spent the next two and a half seasons with NSW Cup outfit Wyong Roos, receiving an offer from the heavyweight Roosters after being named in the competition’s Team of the Year in 2016. He became a permanent part of the Tricolours’ front-row rotation in 2017 and played every game the following season, but a bicep injury suffered in the club’s 2018 grand final defeat of Melbourne ruled him out of Kiwis contention.

The enforcer was again a permanent fixture for the Roosters’ throughout 2019, but Tetevano was the unlucky player to make way for co-captain Jake Friend’s return from injury in the grand final as they became the first back-to-back premiers in 26 years.

Tetevano tempered that disappointment by being named in New Zealand’s Test squad and coming into Kiwis’ World Cup Nines side as a late replacement for the injured James Fisher-Harris. He contributed 26 tackles and 62 metres off the bench on debut in the Kiwis’ loss to the Kangaroos in Wollongong, before being elevated to the starting side for both Tests against Great Britain and contributing solidly in the 2-0 series win.

The off-contract journeyman signed with Penrith for three seasons and helped provide the backbone as the club surged to an unexpected minor premiership in 2020, before featuring in the Panthers side that went down to the Storm in the grand final. Tetevano also represented Māori All Stars during the 2020 pre-season.

Setting off for Super League, the 31-year-old Tetevano played 14 games for Leeds Rhinos in 2021, including two finals matches.

NRL premiership success and New Zealand Test honours came early in hot-stepping winger Roger Tuivasa-Sheck’s career, but it was as an inspirational fullback that he developed into one of the world’s best players – becoming the first Kiwi to have won both the Dally M Medal and Golden Boot award.

Apia-born Tuivasa-Sheck was raised in Auckland and became a schoolboy star in rugby league and union for Otahuhu College. Sydney Roosters recognised his talent and lured him across the Tasman at the end of 2011. Named in the 2012 NYC Team of the Year, the 19-year-old featured in the last six games of the Roosters’ NRL campaign. He represented the Junior Kiwis and was named NZRL’s Junior Player of the Year.

Tuivasa-Sheck exploded into the consciousness of NRL fans in 2013, putting together an astonishing highlights reel on the wing for the Roosters with his electric footwork and finishing ability. After celebrating in the Roosters’ grand final triumph over Manly, the Dally M Winger of the Year was one of the stars of the 2013 Rugby League World Cup. Tuivasa-Sheck scored a try on Kiwis debut on the flank against Samoa – the first of eight tries he scored at the tournament, a tally that included a dazzling double in the epic semi-final win over England.

‘RTS’ was one of only five survivors from New Zealand’s RLWC final loss to Australia to back up for the gutsy Anzac Test defeat in May 2014. But injury ruled him out of the Kiwis’ successful Four Nations campaign at the end of year.

Tuivasa-Sheck took over from retired club legend Anthony Minichiello as the Roosters’ fullback in 2015 and immediately assumed the No.1 jersey in the Kiwis’ line-up, starring in their rousing 26-12 Anzac Test triumph in Brisbane and all three Tests on the post-season tour of England. Setting new standards for metre-eating productivity, he also collected the Dally M Fullback of the Year award.

Tuivasa-Sheck returned home to Auckland as a marquee signing for the Warriors in 2016 but suffered a season-ending knee injury in a win over the Bulldogs in Wellington, preventing him from donning the Kiwis jersey that year.

At just 23 years of age, he was incoming Warriors coach (and former Kiwis mentor) Stephen Kearney’s surprise choice to captain the club in 2017. But Tuivasa-Sheck responded by winning the first of three straight Warriors Player of the Year awards. He was a try-scorer in the last mid-season Anzac Test in Canberra, before playing in all four of New Zealand’s RLWC matches and scoring three times to set a new mark for World Cup tries by a Kiwi (11), while also collecting NZRL’s Kiwis Player of the Year honour.

Tuivasa-Sheck led the Warriors to the finals after a seven-year absence in a phenomenal 2018 campaign, becoming the club’s first Dally M Medal winner – and just the third New Zealander (after Gary Freeman and Jason Taumalolo) to collect the prestigious honour as the premiership’s best and fairest. But the Test captaincy candidate sat out New Zealand’s midyear clash with England in Denver due to the recent birth of his first child and missed the Kiwis’ end-of-year campaign courtesy of a knee injury suffered in the Warriors’ finals loss to Penrith.

While the Warriors slid down the NRL ladder, Tuivasa-Sheck’s performances in 2019 remained top-shelf. An absolute workhorse for his side, the skipper topped the competition for running metres and set a new NRL record for metres gained in a game (367), while still managing to produce his trademark game-breaking brilliance on a regular basis. He finished equal-fifth in the Dally M Medal count – first among players from teams that missed the finals.

‘RTS’ scored a try in the Kiwis’ mid-season win over Tonga at Mt Smart Stadium to take his Test tally to 14 in just 17 matches. Tuivasa-Sheck featured in New Zealand’s loss to Australia and both victories over Great Britain at the end of the year; he was particularly influential in the tough 12-8 win against the Lions at Eden Park, setting up the opening try for Jamayne Isaako with a breath-taking flick pass and coming up with several vital defensive plays in the tense dying stages.

A nominee in 2015, Tuivasa-Sheck’s excellence in the international arena was recognised via the 2019 RLIF Golden Boot award. The 26-year-old joined Hugh McGahan (1987), Stacey Jones (2002), Benji Marshall (2010) and Shaun Johnson (2014) as the only New Zealanders to collect the gong in its 28-year history, solidifying his status as an all-time Kiwis great.

Tuivasa-Sheck’s exceptional, inspirational and selfless role as the skipper of the Warriors’ Australia-based campaign in 2020 attracted universal admiration and a richly-deserved Dally M Captain of the Year award. The only New Zealander to not have his family in the Warriors’ Central Coast ‘bubble’, RTS’s on-field performances remained at the highest standard, finishing atop the NRL’s running metres leaderboard at the end of the regular season.

Tuivasa-Sheck dropped a bombshell during the 2021 pre-season, announcing a contract to join New Zealand Rugby at the end of the year. He maintained sky-high standards throughout his farewell campaign with the Warriors, however, finishing sixth in the Dally M Medal count despite playing just 17 games before returning home in July as the COVID-19 situation in Australia worsened. RTS’s early exit left him five games short of 200 in the NRL, but he passed the 100-game milestone for the Warriors and became just the second player to captain the club in a century of matches.

Signing with the Blues and Auckland, the New Zealand Rugby League great will attempt to join Sonny Bill Williams as the only player to represent both the Kiwis and the All Blacks in the past 25 years.

 

Kenny Bromwich joined older brother Jesse as a key member of the Melbourne Storm and New Zealand Kiwis line-ups. Shorter and stockier than his illustrious sibling, his utility value became a precious commodity at club and representative level.

Melbourne Storm recruited both Manurewa Marlins juniors, with Kenny playing alongside Jesse at NYC level in 2009 and ultimately playing 52 games in the under-20s. He made his NRL debut as a 21-year-old in 2013 – coming off the bench nine times – and became a regular member of Craig Bellamy’s 17 the following season. Bromwich also played in back-to-back Queensland Cup grand final losses for feeder club Easts Tigers in 2013-14.

Primarily a back-rower, Bromwich provided dummy-half cover but could also slot in out in the centres if needed. He played all 27 games for Melbourne in 2016 – including the club’s grand final loss to Cronulla – and made his Kiwis debut off the bench in the Anzac Test defeat to the Kangaroos in Newcastle, with Jesse captaining the side.

Bromwich featured in the 2017 Anzac Test and celebrated in the Storm’s resounding premiership triumph. His only appearance at the end-of-year World Cup saw him score a try in a 74-6 rout of Scotland in Christchurch after starting in the second-row.

Following the Storm’s 2018 grand final loss to the Roosters, the skilful and industrious ‘Mr Fix-it’ was an interchange in all four of the Kiwis’ post-season Tests against Australia and Great Britain.

Bromwich became a regular NRL starter for the first time in 2019, playing all 27 of Melbourne’s games in the second-row. His outstanding form at club level garnered a second-row spot in the New Zealand side for the midyear victory over Tonga, the end-of-season loss to Australia in Wollongong and the first Test against Great Britain at Eden Park.

The 28-year-old’s sensational try-saving tackle in the dying minutes on Lions winger Jermaine McGillvary secured a 12-8 win for the Kiwis. He missed the second Test in Christchurch after heading back to Melbourne for the birth of his second child.

The underrated Bromwich, who represented Māori All Stars in 2019-20, played in his fourth grand final and secured a second NRL premiership ring in 2020 after Melbourne’s 26-20 win over Penrith, the culmination of another fine campaign in the Storm back-row for the 171-game veteran.

Bromwich played 21 games for the minor premiership-winning Storm in 2021 – exclusively as a starting second-rower – to move to eighth on the club’s all-time appearance register (192 games). He was named in the Kiwis’ wider squad for the postponed World Cup at the end of the season.

Brother Jesse is the only New Zealander to play more than Kenny’s 21 finals matches in the history of the premiership.

The nephew of 1970s Kiwis hardman Lyndsay Proctor (Kiwi #507), rangy back-rower Kevin Proctor carved out a long and successful Test career of his own for New Zealand after making his debut in 2012.

Te Kuiti-born Proctor moved to the Gold Coast with his family as a 12-year-old and attended highly-regarded rugby league nursery Palm Beach Currumbin High School. He represented the Australian Schoolboys in 2006-07 but declared his allegiance to his country of birth by turning out for the Junior Kiwis – alongside the likes of Shaun Kenny-Dowall, Alex Glenn and James Tamou – in a 24-22 win over the Junior Kangaroos at the end of ’07.

Proctor was picked up by Melbourne Storm and made three NRL appearances off the bench for the defending premiers in 2008. The 19-year-old also played for New Zealand Māori against the Indigenous Dreamtime team in a curtain-raiser for the Rugby League World Cup opener in Sydney.

An ankle injury stymied Proctor’s progress after he featured in the first seven games of the Storm’s 2009 NRL campaign, but he returned to play in the club’s under-20s grand final victory later that season and forged a permanent spot in the first-grade 17 in 2010.

Another strong year with Melbourne saw Proctor chosen in the Kiwis’ Four Nations touring squad at the end of 2011, though he did not play a match. But the 23-year-old made his Test debut in the second-row in an 18-10 loss to Australia in Townsville two weeks after playing a key role in the Storm’s 2012 grand final triumph.

Retained for the 2013 Anzac Test, Proctor was an unlucky omission from New Zealand’s World Cup squad. But the right-edge workhorse started all five of the Kiwis’ matches in 2014, scoring a maiden try in the 30-12 Four Nations-opening thrashing of the Kangaroos and celebrating in the 26-24 victory over the green-and-golds in the Wellington final.

Proctor extended his Kiwis résumé to 13 consecutive Tests – including the Anzac Test win and all three Tests on the tour of England in 2015 – before eventually being rested for the 2016 Four Nations clash against Scotland. He returned for the loss to Australia in the final a week later.

His 179-game tenure with the Storm ended following their 2016 grand final defeat as he joined the Gold Coast Titans, who immediately installed Proctor as co-captain. But Proctor was stripped of that role and ruled out of World Cup contention after he and Jesse Bromwich were involved in an off-field incident in Canberra after the Kiwis’ 2017 Anzac Test loss.

Proctor regained his place in the New Zealand team for their 2018 post-season schedule, racking up the fourth win of his career over Australia and appearing in all three Tests in England. After featuring in the Māori All Stars’ inaugural fixture against the Indigenous All Stars during the 2019 pre-season, injury kept Proctor out of the Kiwis’ mid-season Test against Tonga. But the veteran for the World Cup Nines and earned a recall for the second-Test win over Great Britain in Christchurch at the end of the year.

He represented Māori All Stars again in 2020 as they defeated Indigenous All Stars, before regaining the Titans’ captaincy. But his 250th NRL appearance – just the 14th New Zealand Test player to achieve the milestone – was soured by a controversial send-off and suspension for allegedly biting Kiwis teammate Shaun Johnson. The 31-year-old return in time to play the last two games of the season for the improving Titans.

Proctor played all but two games in 2021 as Gold Coast returned to the finals for the first time in five years and was named in the wider squad for the postponed World Cup at the end of the season.

Just eight Kiwi representatives have played more NRL games than Proctor’s 275.

 

 

Papatoetoe product Ken Maumalo’s staggering improvement on the wing for the Warriors saw him become a New Zealand Test line-up staple in 2018-19.

Maumalo played 28 NYC games for the Warriors in 2013-14, including as an interchange in the club’s nail-biting grand final win over Brisbane in the latter season.

The young giant earned his NRL spurs as a 20-year-old in 2015 and made 18 top-grade appearances on the wing to the end of 2016. Maumalo scored two tries on Test debut for Toa Samoa in a late-2016 loss to Fiji.

Warriors and Kiwis legend Manu Vatuvei’s injury woes opened up an opportunity on the left flank in 2017, with Maumalo featuring in all but one NRL game and crossing for seven tries. He also represented Samoa in a midyear Test against England and two matches at the World Cup, scoring a four-pointer in a 38-8 defeat to New Zealand at Mt Smart.

Maumalo was widely recognised as one of the NRL’s most improved players in 2018 and was a key figure in the Warriors’ long-awaited return to the playoffs. His powerful, tireless metre-eating efforts were reminiscent of Vatuvei at his best, while he largely eradicated the handling errors that had characterised his previous campaigns and made huge strides defensively.

The Kiwis called Maumalo up for a debut against England in Denver mid-season, before he scored four tries in as many Tests at the end of the year in the upset of the Kangaroos in Auckland and the 2-1 series loss in England. Despite not having bagged a double in 64 first-grade games, he dotted down twice in the 34-0 dead-rubber rout of England at Elland Road. Maumalo was named Kiwis Rookie of the Year at the 2018 NZRL Awards.

 

‘Big Ken’ discovered his tryscoring touch at NRL level in 2019, another season of immense progress for the hulking flank-man. Maumalo more than doubled his career tally by scoring 17 tries in 23 games (including five doubles). The powerhouse also led the competition in post-contact metres and was behind only teammate Roger Tuivasa-Sheck in the all run metres category.

The Dally M Winger of the Year enjoyed another strong year on the international stage, starring at the World Cup Nines – including a four-try haul against USA – and playing all four Tests for New Zealand against Tonga, Australia and Great Britain.

The 25-year-old averaged 181 metres across the four matches, while he produced a brilliant airborne finish for his fifth Kiwis try in the series-sealing defeat of England in Christchurch – Maumalo’s ninth consecutive Test appearance.

Maumalo scored five tries in eight games for the Warriors – as well as averaging 188 metres – in 2020 before returning to New Zealand for family reasons, with the club forced to base itself in Australia due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Returning to the Warriors’ backline in 2021, Maumalo scored eight tries in 11 games and made his 100th NRL appearance for the club. But he was released mid-season, linking with Kiwis coach Michael Maguire at Wests Tigers after scoring an emotional farewell hat-trick for the Warriors against the Storm. Maumalo’s strong tryscoring form continued with his new side, crossing seven times in 10 games – including his 50th in first grade – before being named in the Kiwis’ wider squad for the World Cup.

At just 23, Tokoroa product Joseph Manu had two NRL premierships and eight New Zealand Test appearances under his belt. In the two seasons since he has solidified his standing as one of rugby league’s biggest backline stars.

Sydney Roosters spotted the strapping three-quarter’s potential early and he scored 34 tries in 48 under-20s games for the club from 2014-16, while also representing the Junior Kiwis in a 22-20 loss to the star-studded Junior Kangaroos in 2015.

Manu earned his NRL spurs a week before his 20th birthday, making three top-grade appearances in 2016. He forged a regular spot in the Roosters’ backline with 16 games the following season before firmly underlining his game-breaking ability in a breakout 2018 campaign.

Though he had frequently been used on the wing, Manu made the right centre spot his own and scored a try as one of the Roosters’ stars in their 21-6 grand final victory over Melbourne Storm.

The tall, athletic youngster was even more impressive on Kiwis debut two weeks later, comprehensively outplaying his opposing centre, clubmate Latrell Mitchell, in a 26-24 victory over the Kangaroos in Auckland. Manu powered over for a first-half try and produced a brilliant offload to send Jordan Rapana in after the break. He went on to play all three Tests on New Zealand’s tour of England.

Manu was virtually an automatic pick for the Kiwis’ 2019 Representative Round showdown with Mate Ma’a Tonga and made two line-breaks in another barnstorming international performance, including a dummy-half charge to score his side’s final try of a 34-14 win.

He featured prominently again as the Roosters became the first back-to-back premiers in 26 years courtesy of a gripping 14-8 grand final defeat of Canberra.

 

Australia kept Manu quiet as New Zealand went down 26-4 in Wollongong but he was superb throughout the 2-0 series win against Great Britain, making a line-break in both Tests, running for a combined tally of 222 metres and scoring the opening try of the second encounter in Christchurch.

Manu scored a career-high nine tries from 21 games for the Roosters in 2020, occasionally filling in for superstar fullback James Tedesco.

Expanding his versatility by making appearances at centre, five-eighth, fullback and wing for the injury-ravaged Roosters in 2021, Manu made his 100th NRL appearance and scored a career-high 10 tries. One of the code’s hottest properties, he capped a stellar season with selection in the Kiwis’ wider squad for the World Cup.

 

Warriors back-rower Isaiah Papali’i was barely out of his teens when he was handed his first New Zealand Test cap.

The son of long-serving Kiwi Ferns rep Lorina Papali’i, Isaiah was a rugby union and rugby league star while attending Mount Albert Grammar School. He chose the 13-a-side code, debuting for the Warriors’ NYC side and the Junior Kiwis in 2016 while still only 17 years of age. Papali’i would go on to represent the Junior Kiwis again in 2017-18.

The 18-year-old received a surprise interchange call-up from incoming coach Stephen Kearney for the Warriors’ season-opening NRL clash with Newcastle in 2017. He returned to first grade for four late-season appearances off the bench.

Forging a regular second-row berth for the finals-bound Warriors in 2018, Papali’i played for Samoa in the mid-season Pacific Test against Tonga – but there were many more highlights to come. Mum Lorina featured for the Warriors’ women’s team in their historic NRLW encounter with Sydney Roosters at ANZ Stadium – just before Isaiah turned out for the club in its finals exit at the hands of Penrith at the same ground, his 20th appearance of the season.

Less than a month after captaining the Junior Kiwis against the Junior Kangaroos, he followed in Lorina’s footsteps by coming off the bench in New Zealand’s 34-0 win over England in the third Test at Leeds. Papali’i had the honour of kicking a late conversion on debut in the one-sided encounter.

Lorina and Isaiah are New Zealand’s only mother-son combination to represent the Kiwi Ferns and Kiwis.

Papali’i missed just one game for the Warriors in a trying 2019 campaign. He was named in an extended Kiwis squads for the mid-season showdown with Tonga and the post-season schedule against Australia and Great Britain but was not called upon by New Zealand coach Michael Maguire for any of the four Tests.

After 15 appearances for the Warriors in 2020 – taking his NRL total to 63 games – Papali’i was released by the club and took up a two-year deal with Parramatta Eels.

The move rejuvenated the tyro’s career. In sensational form as soon as he pulled on the blue-and-gold jersey, Papali’i missed just one of fifth-placed Parramatta’s games, was named in the Dally M Team of the Year, received the VB Hard Earned Player of the Year award and the Ken Thornett Medal as the Eels’ official Player of the Year – as well as being widely regarded as the best buy of the 2021 season. Papali’i also doubled his NRL career tally with seven tries, and finished third in the competition for post-contact metres and sixth for tackle breaks.

Unsurprisingly, the 23-year-old earned a spot in the Kiwis’ wider squad for the 2022 World Cup, capping one of the great individual success stories of the rugby league year.

 

Goalkicking winger/fullback Jamayne Isaako’s meteoric rise included a New Zealand Test call-up after just 15 NRL appearances.

Born in Christchurch and a junior of the Aranui Eagles club in Canterbury, Isaako was snapped up by Cronulla as 17-year-old and played 27 games for the Sharks’ under-20s side in 2014-15. He was the Junior Kiwis’ fullback in their loss to the Junior Kangaroos in the latter season.

Isaako linked with Brisbane in 2016, scoring 132 points in just 13 NYC games and again representing the Junior Kiwis against their Australian counterparts – this time at five-eighth.

While piling on the points for Broncos feeder club Souths Logan Magpies in the 2017 InTrust Super Cup, the 21-year-old made his NRL debut at fullback in a win over Newcastle, his only top-grade outing of the season.

But Isaako began the 2018 season on the right wing for Brisbane and carved out a dazzling Dally M Rookie of the Year campaign. He scored 11 tries and kicked 97 goals at 82.91 percent to rack up 239 points – the second-highest tally ever for the Broncos and the most points in a season by a rookie in premiership history.

Despite his lack of top-level experience, Isaako proved himself as a match-winner with the boot and in general play. The cool-headed youngster kicked a golden point penalty goal to sink Wests Tigers in just his fourth first-grade game, while he scored an astonishing solo match-winner against Sydney Roosters that was later voted the NRL’s Try of the Year.

A few weeks later he was in Denver donning the black-and-white jersey at Test level, kicking three goals in the Kiwis’ 36-18 loss to England. Isaako was selected in New Zealand’s end-of-year squad and made his second international appearance in the third-Test thrashing of England at Elland Road after coming into the side for injured winger Jordan Rapana.

Isaako endured an early-2019 form slump with the Broncos but he turned out at fullback in Samoa’s win over Papua New Guinea midyear, booting four goals. That representative outing triggered a turnaround for Isaako, who finished the NRL season in superb touch to earn a place in the Kiwis’ World Cup Nines and Test squads.

He was one of the inaugural World Cup Nines’ standout performers, heading the tryscoring (7) and pointscoring (52) lists and winning a place in the Team of the Tournament as the Kiwis finished runners-up.

The 23-year-old featured on the wing in New Zealand’s loss to Australia in Wollongong, before scoring the first try and kicking two goals in the series-opening win against Great Britain at Eden Park. He then slotted five goals and a field goal as the Kiwis wrapped up a cleansweep in front of Isaako’s family and friends in Christchurch.

Isaako played only 10 games for the struggling Broncos in a difficult 2020 season that included the loss of his father, Taai, to cancer. He became a first-grade regular again in 2021, however, scoring six tries and 124 in 18 games at wing and fullback to become just the sixth player to pass the 500-point milestone for the Broncos. Still on the Kiwis’ radar, Isaako was named in the wider squad for the World Cup at the end of 2021.

Resilient and brilliant five-eighth Kieran Foran appeared certain to become one of New Zealand’s longest-serving internationals, but a horror run of injuries has severely limited his availability since starring in a string of momentous victories in the mid-2010s.

 

Born in Auckland and first pulling on the boots for Ellerslie Eagles, Foran moved to Sydney with his family while still at primary school. His ability while coming through the North Sydney junior grades was recognised with his selection in the 2007 Australian Schoolboys side while attending Marist College North Shore.

 

Foran was snapped up by Manly, playing 35 games for the club’s NYC side in 2008-09 and making an instant impact at NRL level when he was blooded as an 18-year-old during the second half of the latter season. He scored six tries in nine first-grade outings to snare a place in the Kiwis’ Four Nations touring squad.

 

Capping a meteoric rise, Foran made his Test debut at centre in a 20-12 loss to England at Huddersfield – less than four months after his 19th birthday. That was his only appearance at the tournament but he was picked at halfback inside captain Benji Marshall for the 2010 Anzac Test.

 

Injury ruled Foran out of New Zealand’s subsequent Four Nations triumph. He wore the No.7 jersey in all five of the Kiwis’ Test assignments in 2011, however, and starred in the Sea Eagles’ premiership triumph. An ill-timed injury prevented him from playing in the 2012 Anzac Test in Auckland but he returned for the post-season loss to Australia in Townsville.

 

Solidifying his standing as one of the world’s best players in 2013, Foran was integral to Manly’s drive to another grand final – a loss to Sydney Roosters – and was ever-present at five-eighth for New Zealand. He captained the Kiwis in their Anzac Test loss to the Kangaroos in Canberra and featured in all six matches at the Rugby League World Cup for the runners-up.

 

Foran’s playmaking class was complemented by a fierce competitive streak and inspirational toughness in defence. The 2014 season would be one of his most memorable, finishing equal-seventh in the Dally M Medal count and playing superbly as Shaun Johnson’s halves foil throughout the Kiwis’ triumphant Four Nations campaign. Foran and Johnson teamed up again to lead New Zealand to a drought-breaking Anzac Test victory in Brisbane in 2015, but both linchpins were ruled out of the end-of-year tour to England with injury.

 

The 25-year-old joined Parramatta in 2016 and was immediately installed as captain. But a season-ending shoulder injury and a string of widely-publicised personal issues meant he played just nine games for the Eels before returning to Auckland to take up a one-year contract with the Warriors. Injuries also hampered his sole 2017 season at the Warriors, but he soldiered on valiantly and made his first international appearance in two years as the Kiwis went down to the Kangaroos in the Canberra-hosted Anzac Test. He pulled out of RLWC contention to focus on recovering from multiple ailments.

 

Linking with Canterbury, Foran’s 2018 campaign was cut short in June by a toe injury. Ankle and hamstring problems restricted his appearances again in 2019 but he finished the NRL season in top-shelf form for the Bulldogs to earn a Kiwis recall at the end of the year. Foran was chosen to replace Johnson in the halves for the series opener against Great Britain at Eden Park – his first Test outing on New Zealand soil in five years – to extend his international tenure to a decade. But agonisingly he suffered a serious shoulder injury in the early stages of the 12-8 win.

Foran made his 200th NRL appearance in a 2020 campaign for the Bulldogs bookended by further injury absences, while he signed a deal to return to the Sea Eagles in 2021 – a move that sparked a wonderful career revival. The 31-year-old played 25 games (his most in a season since 2013) in a team that surged to a top-four finish and reached the preliminary final stage, producing 11 try-assists and thriving in the halves alongside 2011-15 teammate Daly Cherry-Evans.

 

Foran was named in the Kiwis’ wider squad for the postponed World Cup at the end of 2021.

Bay of Plenty product Briton Nikora began 2019 as a relative unknown. He finished the season entrenched in Cronulla’s back-row with four New Zealand Test caps under his belt.

Nikora moved to the Gold Coast with his family in 2007 and honed his rugby league skills at famed breeding ground Keebra Park State High School. He caught the Sharks’ eye and scored 16 tries in 25 under-20s games for the club in 2016-17, earning a place in the NYC Team of the Year and representing the Junior Kiwis in the latter season.

After spending 2018 with feeder club Newtown Jets, Nikora was a second-row starter for the Sharks in Round 1 of the 2019 NRL season. He immediately impressed with his ability to hit a hole – making seven line-breaks his first five games – and formed a lethal combination with playmaker Shaun Johnson on the right edge.

The pair reprised their partnership on the international stage in June when Nikora received a Kiwis call-up for the Mt Smart showdown with Tonga after just 12 NRL appearances. The 21-year-old wore the No.12 jumper, running for over 100 metres and racking up 25 tackles in a strong debut as the Kiwis prevailed 34-14.

Nikora featured in all but one of Cronulla’s 25 games and finished a stellar rookie year with seven tries. The tyro then starred for New Zealand during the inaugural World Cup Nines and retained his second-row spot for all three of the Kiwis’ post-season internationals against Australia and Great Britain, enhancing his reputation as a hardworking defender as well as a dangerous ball-runner.

Nikora featured in Māori All Stars’ victory over Indigenous All Stars during the 2020 pre-season, while he scored six tries and averaged 33 tackles in 16 games in his sophomore NRL campaign for the Sharks.

After representing the Māori All Stars again in 2021, the 23-year-old brought up his 50th appearance for Cronulla, playing 22 of the Sharks’ 24 games and crossing for four tries. He was later named in the Kiwis’ wider squad for the following year’s World Cup.

Dynamic forward James Fisher-Harris is part of the Penrith Panthers’ burgeoning association with Northland and the surge in players from the region representing New Zealand over the past decade.

Hailing from the small town of Rawene in the Hokianga, Fisher-Harris’ promise while playing for Whangarei Marist Brothers attracted the interest of the Panthers in 2013. He turned out for the club’s SG Ball and NYC teams, winning a premiership with the latter in 2015 partnering fellow Hokianga-bred forward – and fellow future Kiwi – Corey Harawira-Naera in the second-row.

The 20-year-old made his NRL debut off the bench in Round 1 of the 2016 season and was a permanent fixture in burgeoning Penrith’s line-up, eventually nailing down a position as a tackle-busting second-rower. After playing in both of the Panthers’ finals matches, Fisher-Harris capped a stellar rookie year with selection in New Zealand’s Four Nations squad. His only appearance on tour was as an interchange in the Kiwis’ shock 18-all draw with Scotland in Workington.

Fisher-Harris was named NZRL’s Junior Player of the Year. But he endured an injury-hit follow-up season and missed the Kiwis’ Rugby League World Cup campaign.

Moving to a middle forward role with the Panthers in 2018, the tyro upped his work-rate and gained a place in the Kiwis’ squad for the Denver Test against England. Following a third straight NRL finals campaign, Fisher-Harris started in the No.13 jersey in New Zealand’s 26-24 upset of Australia in Auckland and featured in the first two Tests against England in England.

While Penrith fell down the premiership ladder in 2019, Fisher-Harris took his performances to a new level. The 23-year-old workhorse played every game, averaging 42.9 tackles (first in the NRL among non-hookers) and 132.9 metres (16th among the competition’s forwards) to take out the Panthers’ Player of the Year honour.

Fisher-Harris came off the bench in the Kiwis’ mid-season victory over Mate Ma’a Tonga but a pectoral muscle tear ruled him out of the World Cup Nines and the subsequent Tests against Australia and Great Britain.

The front-row hardman earned recognition as one of the NRL’s best forwards in 2020, however, named in the Dally M Team of the Year and playing an integral role in the Panthers’ drive to their first grand final in 17 years.

Fisher-Harris, who passed the 100-game milestone for Penrith during the season, led the competition in post-contact metres and was the top forward in terms of total run metres.

JFH maintained his status as one of the game’s engine-room benchmarks in a stellar 2021, which began with the Preston Campbell Medal as player of the match in Māori All Stars’ 10-all draw with Indigenous All Stars. He again earned a spot in the Dally M Team of the Year after finishing 12th in the overall Player of the Year count – and first among forwards – before helping spearhead the Panthers’ unforgettable drive to premiership glory.

 

Fisher-Harris was superb up front in the gripping grand final triumph over South Sydney and was an automatic pick in the Kiwis’ wider World Cup squad.

One of the most dazzling individual talents rugby league has witnessed, Shaun Johnson has spearheaded many famous international victories – as well as breaking New Zealand’s all-time Test pointscoring record – during an eight-season tenure in the Kiwis jersey.

Johnson’s mesmerising footwork, speed and ball skills first drew attention on the touch football field, but the Hibiscus Coast and Northcote junior’s destiny lay in professional rugby league and he took the first steps towards his dream by breaking into the Warriors’ NYC team in 2009.

The halfback scored 398 points (including 24 tries) in 45 under-20s games, culminating in an NYC grand final victory in 2010. Johnson subsequently starred in the Junior Kiwis’ drawn two-match series with the Junior Kangaroos.

After recovering from a back injury, Johnson took the NRL by storm in 2011. The 20-year-old debuted in Round 13 and blew minds on a weekly basis with a string of blistering solo tries. His majestic cross-field run to set up Lewis Brown’s match-sealing try in the Warriors’ preliminary final upset of Melbourne gained an instant place in NRL finals folklore.

Johnson sparked a late comeback in the grand final a week later, but the Warriors ultimately went down 24-10 to Manly. Later named the NZRL’s Kiwi Rookie of the Year, he was unavailable for a likely Four Nations call-up for New Zealand due to injury.

But a Kiwis debut was not far away. Selected at halfback for the 2012 Anzac Test at Eden Park, Johnson announced himself on the international stage with a 90-metre intercept try in the 20-12 loss. A disappointing finish to his sophomore NRL campaign saw Johnson left out of the side for the post-season Test against Australia but he was nevertheless named RLIF’s Rookie of the Year.

Johnson returned for the 2013 Anzac Test and – after a highlights-stacked NRL campaign with the erratic Warriors – set about lighting up the Rugby League World Cup. The ball-playing wizard racked up 76 points in six matches at the tournament, including a 24-point haul (two tries, eight goals) in the Kiwis’ pool win over France. But Johnson left his most indelible mark in the dying seconds of the epic semi-final against England, scoring an astonishing solo try to level the scores before slotting the match-winning conversion after the siren. He was well-contained by the Kangaroos in a deflating 34-2 final loss, however.

But New Zealand had the wood on Australia over the next two seasons – largely thanks to Johnson’s genius. The 24-year-old was man-of-the-match in both 2014 Four Nations victories over the Kangaroos, producing a kick-and-chase try in the round-robin rout and burning Greg Inglis to score an unforgettable four-pointer in the Wellington-hosted final. Johnson, who started the year by winning Player of the Tournament honours at the inaugural NRL Auckland Nines, subsequently became New Zealand’s fourth winner of the Golden Boot award as the world’s outstanding player.

Some critics called for Johnson to be dropped ahead of the 2015 Anzac Test after a patchy start to the NRL season, but – in what has become a trademark throughout his career – he responded with a wonderful performance (including a try and five goals) in the Kiwis’ 26-12 triumph in Brisbane, their first mid-season defeat of the green-and-golds since 1998. Johnson went on arguably the hottest form streak of his career as the premiership headed into the home stretch, but tragically he broke his ankle while scoring a try against Manly. The injury shattered the Warriors’ finals prospects and ruled Johnson out of the end-of-year tour to England.

Johnson recovered to feature in all six of New Zealand’s Test assignments in 2016. He scored a try and slotted the match-winning field goal in a 17-16 eclipse of England in the Four Nations opener at Huddersfield, then went within a whisker of forcing a draw against Australia. Down by 10 with less than four minutes left, Johnson’s chip-and-regather set up a try for Jordan Rapana before the No.7 was held up over the try-line on fulltime. The Kiwis went down to the Kangaroos 34-8 in the final.

A knee injury sidelined Johnson for five weeks late in the 2017 NRL season, derailing the struggling Warriors’ tenuous playoffs hopes again. But he was back to full fitness for the World Cup, scoring tries in pool wins over Samoa and Scotland – the latter part of a 22-point haul that took Johnson past Matthew Ridge as New Zealand’s all-time top Test point-scorer.

A tough year ended on a sour note with RLWC losses to Tonga and Fiji, but Johnson produced arguably his most consistent season at club level in 2018 – despite multiple injury interruptions, one of which forced his withdrawal from the Denver Test against England. Johnson helped lead the Warriors to their first Top 8 finish in seven years, before being named man-of-the-match in the Kiwis’ post-season upset of the Kangaroos in Auckland. He then kicked 11 goals in the subsequent 2-1 series loss in England. The four end-of-year Tests marked the first time Johnson had worn the No.6 jersey for his country, with Kodi Nikorima inside him at halfback.

An acrimonious split with the Warriors soon after the Kiwis returned from Britain saw Johnson – the club’s eight-season linchpin and greatest-ever point-scorer – link with Cronulla ahead of the 2019 season. While his form at the Sharks was inconsistent and again hampered by injuries, he made a triumphant return to Mount Smart Stadium mid-season. Johnson teamed up in the halves with Benji Marshall for the first time since his 2012 debut and scored two first-half tries in the Kiwis’ emphatic 34-14 victory over Tonga. He also became the 52nd player in premiership history to score 1,000 points – and only the fifth among Kiwi representatives, after Daryl Halligan, Matthew Ridge, Luke Covell and Benji Marshall.

Named in the Team of the Tournament after a brilliant weekend for the Kiwis at the inaugural World Cup Nines in Sydney, Johnson was dropped from the Test team following a disappointing performance in the loss to Australia in Wollongong. But Johnson copped the demotion on the chin and, after coming back into the team for the injured Kieran Foran, starred in second-Test victory over Great Britain in Christchurch with a trademark individual try and an assist.

Despite being restricted to 16 games for the injury-ravaged Sharks in 2020 – with a ruptured Achilles tendon ruling him out of the finals – Johnson led the NRL with 23 try-assists, scored 120 points and finished equal-fifth in the Dally M Medal standings.

The Achilles recovery meant he did not take the field until Round 7 in 2021, while a hamstring injury again prematurely ended his season after a career-low 10 games – although that tally allowed him to bring up 200 appearances in the NRL. In a stunning mid-season bombshell, Johnson signed a two-year deal to return to the Warriors in 2022. He was named in the Kiwis’ wider squad for the postponed World Cup at the end of 2021.

Only Adam Blair (35) and Issac Luke (33) played more Tests than Johnson (32) – who has missed only six matches for the Kiwis since his debut – during the 2010s. Johnson’s 223 Test points is 55 clear of the second-placed Ridge, while only 11 players have posted more Test tries for New Zealand than his 14 touchdowns.

Johnson’s perceived enigmatic tendencies – particularly at club level – have made him a perennial target for detractors, but his deeds in the international arena have secured his place in the pantheon of New Zealand’s all-time greats.

 

Jesse Bromwich came out of the Manurewa Marlins club to become recognised as one of world’s best props, a three-time premiership winner with Melbourne Storm and a New Zealand Test captain.

An Auckland and New Zealand Māori age-group rep, Bromwich’s family moved to Australia and he gained a further rugby league education with NSW Country Group 10 club Orange Hawks. The Storm recognised the tyro’s potential and brought him to Melbourne, featuring prominently in the club’s 2009 NYC premiership success.

The 20-year-old made his NRL debut for the defending champs early the following season, before becoming firmly established in the Storm’s front-row in 2011. A midyear Test debut against Australia and a grand final winner’s ring followed in 2012 for Bromwich, whose reputation was beginning to match his imposing frame.

Bromwich featured in New Zealand’s 2013 Rugby League World Cup campaign, 2014 Four Nations triumph, and the Anzac Test victory and tour of England in 2015. He then took over as Kiwi captain for the 2016 Anzac Test, coinciding with younger brother and Storm teammate Kenny’s international debut.

Mobile and athletic to complement his size, the 27-year-old was named Dally M Prop of the Year and helped Melbourne to another grand final appearance in 2016 – a loss to Cronulla – before leading the Kiwis in all five post-season Tests. Bromwich was named the Kiwis’ Player of the Year in 2015 and ’16.

From his debut to the 2017 Anzac Test, Bromwich played 24 of a possible 25 Tests (he missed only a 2013 RLWC pool game against France). But the skipper, along with ex-Storm teammate Kevin Proctor, was stood down by the New Zealand Rugby League following an off-field incident in Canberra after the 30-12 loss to Australia, ruling him out of the Kiwis’ World Cup campaign. Bromwich tempered that disappointment by playing a leading role in a second Storm premiership triumph.

Bromwich achieved the 200-game milestone with the Storm in 2018, before enduring grand final defeat to the Roosters. Unavailable for the Denver Test, he returned to the Kiwis fold for the post-season win over the Kangaroos at Mt Smart and played all three Tests on the tour of England, scoring his third Test try in the 34-0 victory in the third encounter.

The veteran turned out for New Zealand in the 2019 mid-season defeat of Tonga, but – despite playing every game for Melbourne, his ninth consecutive season racking up 20-plus appearances (and seventh straight averaging more than 120 metres per game) – injury ruled him out of the Kiwis’ end-of-year schedule.

A Māori All Stars rep against Indigenous All Stars in 2019-20, Bromwich played 19 of the Storm’s 22 games as COVID-19 forced to team to base itself in Queensland for most of 2020. The 31-year-old received his third NRL premiership ring after Melbourne’s 26-20 grand final victory over Penrith.

Bromwich assumed the Melbourne captaincy in 2021 following Cameron Smith’s retirement, leading the club to the minor premiership and a preliminary final appearance. The veteran also became the Storm’s sixth 250-game player in another ultra-consistent campaign – his eighth in a row averaging over 100 running metres per game. The 29-Test Kiwi was named in the wider squad for the World Cup at the end of the season.

Bromwich has played 27 NRL finals matches, a record for a New Zealander that stands six clear of Nathan Cayless, Steve Matai and brother Kenny.

Taking up an opportunity with the Canberra Raiders late in the 2019 pre-season kick-started Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad’s remarkable rise to New Zealand Test honours.

Boasting Cook Islands, Māori and Norwegian heritage, the Auckland-born utility-back played junior football for City Newton Dragons, Mount Albert, Waitemata and Richmond, before moving to Melbourne with his family as a 15-year-old. He played for local club Altona Roosters before being picked up by Melbourne Storm, turning out for their SG Ball and NYC sides.

Nicoll-Klokstad made his international debut for Cook Islands against Tonga in 2015. He returned home to join the Warriors at the end of the year and won the club’s InTrust Super Premiership Player of the Year award in 2016, as well as being named as a centre in the ISP Team of the Year.

The 21-year-old received a belated NRL call-up in 2017, scoring seven tries in seven top-grade appearances on the wing for the Warriors. But with internationals Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, David Fusitu’a, Ken Maumalo, Solomone Kata, Peta Hiku and Gerard Beale ahead of him in the pecking order, Nicoll-Klokstad was restricted to ISP duty in 2018.

The Warriors granted the versatile tyro a release to join Canberra in February 2019 – and a little over a month later he was lining up at fullback in a rejigged Raiders backline in Round 1. Nicoll-Klokstad was hailed as arguably the NRL’s buy of the season. He played all but one game, finished equal-10th in the Dally M Medal count, scored 11 tries and averaged 175 metres per games as the Green Machine stormed to their first grand final in 25 years.

Nicoll-Klokstad was outstanding against Sydney Roosters in the grand final before leaving the field injured in the latter stages, but he tempered the disappointment of the Raiders’ 14-8 loss by earning selection in New Zealand’s World Cup Nines and Test squads.

After featuring in the Kiwis’ drive to the World Cup Nines final, the 24-year-old was named to debut at centre for the Test against Australia in Wollongong. He was New Zealand’s sole try-scorer and made 112 running metres in 26-4 loss.

Nicoll-Klokstad was a strong performer in the 2-0 series win over Great Britain on home soil, racking up a shade under 100 metres in both matches and a try-assist for Ken Maumalo’s match-sealer in the second Test in Christchurch.

Canberra upgraded and extended Nicoll-Klokstad’s contract with the club until the end of 2023, while he scored seven tries in 21 games as a vital cog in the injury-hit Raiders’ run to another preliminary final appearance in 2020.

Nicoll-Klokstad played in the Māori All Stars’ 10-all draw with the Indigenous All Stars in the 2021 pre-season but a neck injury five rounds into the NRL campaign consigned Nicoll-Klokstad to the sidelines for four months and significantly hampered the Raiders’ finals hopes. But he valiantly returned to the field earlier than expected to feature in the club’s last three matches. The veteran of 62 NRL games was named in the Kiwis’ wider World Cup squad at the end of the year.

 

Two-time Junior Kiwi Braden Hamlin-Uele was 24 years of age when he belatedly nailed down a regular NRL berth. But the hulking front-rower’s breakout 2019 campaign with Cronulla saw him fast-tracked into the New Zealand Test side.

 

The Glenora Bears product joined Sydney Roosters as a teenager in 2013, playing for the club’s SG Ball and NYC teams before reuniting with former Roosters under-20s coach Paul Green at North Queensland in 2015. Hamlin-Uele represented the Junior Kiwis in 2014 and ’15.

 

After toiling in the NYC for the Cowboys and Queensland Cup with Mackay Cutters, the 22-year-old powerhouse made his NRL debut in 2017 as an interchange against the Roosters. But that would be his only appearance in the top flight for the Townsville outfit before he signed with the Sharks.

 

Hamlin-Uele spent most of 2018 playing for NSW Cup feeder club Newtown, featuring in just one NRL game for Cronulla. But after almost giving up on his NRL dream during the off-season, he secured a place on the Sharks’ bench early in 2019 and enjoyed a superb season.

 

Boasting outstanding footwork and mobility for his size and fine ball skills, Hamlin-Uele was a constant headache for opposition defences. He scored four tries, racked up 50 tackle-breaks and averaged over 100 run metres in 21 games.

 

A calf injury ruled Hamlin-Uele out of New Zealand’s World Cup Nines squad, but he recovered to be available for the Kiwis’ subsequent Test campaign. The game-breaking prop received a debut call-up for the clash with Australia in Wollongong, playing 23 minutes off the bench in a 26-4 loss. Joseph Tapine’s return to the line-up edged Hamlin-Uele out of the match-day 17 for the two Tests against Great Britain.

 

In a Cronulla pack hit by injuries and the exit of representative forwards Paul Gallen and Matt Prior, Hamlin-Uele was a mainstay in 2020. He was one of only two players to feature in all 21 games for the finalists, while he bulldozed his way over for six tries, made 52 tackle-breaks, and averaged 96 metres and 22 tackles per game in a superb follow-up to his breakout campaign.

 

Hamlin-Uele passed his 50-game milestone with the Sharks in 2021, making 19 appearances and scoring one try – which he followed up with a memorable WWE-style celebration that dominated highlight reels – before being named in the Kiwis’ wider squad for the World Cup at the end of the season.

Wellington-born utility Jahrome Hughes enjoyed a breakout 2019 season, becoming a vital cog in the Melbourne Storm machine and earning an international call-up for the Kiwis.

A junior of the Harbour City Eagles club in the New Zealand capital, Hughes moved to the Gold Coast with his family as a teenager. He had a stint with Sydney Roosters’ SG Ball team but opted to remain in south-east Queensland and played 45 NYC games for the Titans from 2012-14.

Hughes was just 18 when he made his NRL debut at fullback in 2013 but that would be his only appearance for the Titans in the top flight. He headed for Townsville at the end of the following season.

With opportunities at fullback and in the halves scarce at North Queensland – he played one NRL game for the club in 2016 – Hughes was snapped up by Melbourne. He impressed as a back-up to the Storm’s star-studded spine in 2017-18 but was not required for the heavyweights’ finals campaigns.

Hughes featured at halfback in the Māori All Stars’ historic clash with the Indigenous All Stars in Melbourne in the 2019 pre-season.

Billy Slater’s retirement opened the NRL door for the 24-year-old, taking ownership of the Storm’s No.1 jersey and impressing with his incisive running, playmaking instincts and cool-headed play at the back.

Hughes’ versatility earned him a spot on the Kiwis’ bench for the 2019 mid-season Test against Tonga. Entering the fray at hooker, the head-geared utility scored a second-half solo try from dummy-half on debut.

He switched to the halves late in the NRL campaign for the Storm before being selected in the Kiwis’ squad for their end-of-year Test schedule. Hughes played 29 minutes of the loss to Australia in Wollongong at dummy-half, while he was pitched into the five-eighth role in the opening minutes of first Test against Great Britain at Eden Park after Kieran Foran left the field with a shoulder injury.

Hughes played a steady hand in the tense 12-8 victory – including a 26-tackle contribution – but was replaced on the interchange by Kodi Nikorima for the following encounter with the Lions in Christchurch.

After representing Māori All Stars again during the 2020 pre-season, Hughes nailed down the Storm No.7 jersey and was one of the NRL’s standout players. The 26-year-old scored seven tries and produced 15 try-assists in 19 games, including the club’s grand final triumph over Penrith.

Hughes developed into one of the NRL’s best halfbacks and most influential players in 2021. Arguably the minor premiership-winning Storm’s standout performer in another season of team excellence, Hughes finished equal-seventh in the Dally M Medal count. He was an obvious choice for the Kiwi’s wider squad for the 2022 World Cup at the end of the year.

Wellington-born Nelson Asofa-Solomona sidestepped certain rugby union stardom to join Melbourne Storm, before breaking into the Kiwis Test team in 2017.

The towering tyro played rugby league at junior level for Upper Hutt Tigers, but the Wellington College product had been earmarked for the 15-a-side heights until the Storm recognised Asofa-Solomona’s potential and lured him across the Tasman.

Asofa-Solomona cut his teeth with Melbourne’s under-20s side in 2014 and was blooded in Craig Bellamy’s NRL line-up the following season. The 19-year-old came off the bench 12 times, including both of the club’s finals games. He produced a strong follow-up campaign in 2016 but dislocated his elbow during the playoffs, ruling him out of the Storm’s grand final loss to Cronulla – and a potential end-of-year Kiwis call-up.

But Asofa-Solomona ticked both boxes in 2017, missing just one of Melbourne’s games and starring in the grand final defeat of North Queensland, before featuring in all four matches of New Zealand’s World Cup campaign. He scored a try on Test debut in the Kiwis’ pool victory over Samoa and was later named Kiwis Rookie of the Year.

Establishing himself as a front-row starter for the Storm in 2018, ‘NAS’ was vital cog of their drive to another grand final appearance – a loss to Sydney Roosters – while he played in the mid-season Test against England in Denver. An ankle injury ruled him out of the Kiwis’ post-season campaign.

Asofa-Solomona returned to the New Zealand side for the following year’s mid-season showdown with Mate Ma’a Tonga in Auckland. He was one of the most effective forwards on the field, racking up 125 metres and 30 tackles in 44 minutes off the bench.

The two-metre enforcer’s intimidating physical presence is matched by his aggression and explosive impact on both sides of the ball. Freakishly mobile and athletic for his size, Asofa-Solomona’s ball skills are another dangerous weapon in his arsenal. He passed 100 NRL appearances for the Storm in a stellar 2019 season, and put up career-high tallies for games played (27), average metres (122), average tackles (21.4) and offloads (39), as well as make 70-plus tackle-breaks for the third straight year.

An automatic selection for New Zealand’s end-of-year Test schedule, Asofa-Solomona was ruled out of the clashes with Australia and Great Britain due to an NRL-imposed suspension for an off-field incident.

Asofa-Solomona recovered from that setback in 2020, however, reaching 20 appearances for the fourth straight NRL season (averaging 3.5 tackle-breaks and 120 metres in the process) and starting at lock in the Storm’s grand final victory over the Panthers.

Restricted to 15 regular-season games in 2021, the 25-year-old nevertheless played a prominent role in another Melbourne minor premiership and featured in both of the club’s finals fixtures. He was named in the Kiwis’ wider squad for the postponed World Cup at the end of the year.

The front-row cornerstone of three NRL premiership triumphs for Sydney Roosters, Jared Waerea-Hargreaves has joined a select group of Kiwis whose tenures in the black-and-white jersey span more than a decade.

Rotorua-born Waerea-Hargreaves was a highly promising rugby union forward as a junior in Brisbane and Sydney, representing Australia at the 2007 under-19s world championships. But despite no experience in the 13-a-side code, Manly took a punt on the tyro.

Cutting his teeth in the NYC with 36 outings for the Sea Eagles under-20s in 2008-09, Waerea-Hargreaves made six NRL appearances for the club in the latter season. He capped one of the more extraordinary meteoric rises of the modern era when he was selected in New Zealand’s Four Nations squad at the end of 2009.

The 20-year-old debuted in a warm-up Test against Tonga – fittingly, in Rotorua – before coming off the bench in all three of the Kiwis’ Four Nations fixtures in England and France. He scored two tries in the 62-12 thrashing of France, his only Test points to date.

Waerea-Hargreaves linked with Sydney Roosters upon his return. Injury prevented him from taking the field for his new club until Round 6 of the 2010 season, but he nevertheless retained his spot for the Kiwis’ 12-8 loss to the Kangaroos in Melbourne three weeks later.

After featuring in the Roosters’ charge to the 2010 grand final (a loss to St George Illawarra), Waerea-Hargreaves played in New Zealand’s 76-12 win over Papua New Guinea in Rotorua but he was left out of the side that upset Australia in the final.

The aggressive prop established himself as one of the NRL’s foremost enforcers in ensuing seasons, coming off the bench in all four matches of the Kiwis’ 2011 post-season schedule and the 2012 Anzac Test. He turned out for the NRL All Stars and won the Roosters’ Player of the Year award in the latter year.

After making his maiden Test starting line-up appearance mid-season against Australia, Waerea-Hargreaves starred in the Roosters’ drive to the 2013 premiership and featured in five of the Kiwis’ six World Cup matches. A stellar season at club and representative level saw him named as one of the Top 5 Players of the Year in David Middleton’s Official Rugby League Annual, an achievement he went on to repeat in 2015.

But Waerea-Hargreaves was one of several incumbents left out of the Kiwis’ Anzac Test line-up early in 2014, heralding an absence from the national side of almost three years. Injury ruled him out of contention for a recall for the 2015 tour of England.

He belatedly returned to the international arena under new coach David Kidwell in late-2016 with appearances against Australia in Perth and a Four Nations win over England in Huddersfield. Waerea-Hargreaves played in all four of the Kiwis’ 2017 RLWC matches, kick-starting a run of 13 straight Test outings to the end of 2019.

By now an elder statesman at the club, Waerea-Hargreaves played an integral role as the Roosters became the first back-to-back premiers in a full competition in 26 years by winning the 2018-19 NRL grand finals. The 30-year-old averaged a career-high 141 metres per game in 2019, while also bringing up 200 first-grade appearances for the Tricolours. With a monster contribution of 185 metres and 41 tackles, he was unlucky to not win the Clive Churchill Medal following the gripping grand final win over Canberra.

The veteran was named the 2018 Kiwis Player of the Year at the NZRL Awards after starring in all five Tests that year, while he was also one of New Zealand’s best in 2019, averaging 136.4 metres and 34 tackles across four  Tests against Tonga, Australia and Great Britain.

Waerea-Hargreaves maintained his usual high standards for the injury-hit Roosters in 2020, playing 18 games and chalking up 135 metres per game as the club’s NRL reign ended in week two of the finals.

The Roosters’ casualty ward was filled to the brim in 2021, but JWH was a tower of strength. The 32-year-old played 23 games – including three as captain – as he passed the 250-game milestone in the NRL, and was sixth among the competition’s forwards for running metres (averaging a career-high 148 per game) and eighth for post-contact metres.

The stalwart of 20 Tests – placing him inside the top 20 for most appearances for the Kiwis – was named in the Kiwis’ wider squad for the World Cup at the end of 2021.