Kiwi #809 Esan Marsters’ take on the week in Denver where he made his Kiwis Test debut:
“It was a serious moment for me. A special moment.
So when the anthem singer in Denver didn’t know the words to ‘God Defend New Zealand’, I didn’t pay much attention. The emotion of representing my country at Test level for the first time took over me and I wasn’t going to let anything ruin it.
Esan Marsters made his debut today and scored the first try of the match#TeIwiKiwi 🇳🇿
Posted by New Zealand Kiwis on Saturday, 23 June 2018
Esan Marsters made his debut today and scored the first try of the match#TeIwiKiwi 🇳🇿
Posted by New Zealand Kiwis on Saturday, 23 June 2018
I had my left arm around Jamayne Isaako, who was also making his Test debut. I had Marty Taupau on my right. I had my eyes closed, my right hand over my heart. I just kept singing.
Watching it over again on all the videos that came out afterwards, the boys all tried to sing through it but, by the end, some looked like they were trying to hold it all in.
And that wasn’t the end of the unexpected twists.
Our flight home got cancelled due to an electrical storm in San Francisco. I’d certainly rather miss the flight and be safe than be on one where something went wrong, at least.
It was a bit of a shock to some of us, because we just wanted to get home and also get ready to play for our NRL clubs on the weekend. But it was pretty cool – we got to stay there one more night and spending some extra time with the boys was enjoyable, especially with it being my first New Zealand camp. Donny Singe, our high performance expert managed our recovery so we were all well looked after.
They just booked us into a hotel near the airport. Then, we all got put on different flights on the way home – with some mixed results.
Poor Marty Taupau was unlucky – it could have been any of the boys but it just happened to be him whose flight was again delayed. He just wanted to see his family and he wasn’t happy. But, he still backed up for Manly and played good footy for his club.
I was due back in Sydney on Tuesday with our original flight and instead ended up arriving home first thing Wednesday morning. I had that day off, which worked out well.
It was a shame that the flight delays happened, given there were some people intent on criticising the Test being played in Denver. I think having the game there was a really positive thing.
Regardless of what happened, I really enjoyed my time there. I look forward to going back – we’re committed to play a New Zealand vs England Test there for the next three years.
A mile-high debut
It was a bit different in Denver! The people are really nice in the US – they talk a lot, they like to ask you how your day is going, little stuff like that.
There were billboards of us playing displayed around the city. People were asking us, ‘What are you here for, are you here for the football match?’ It was cool that they knew we were there for a rugby league game. And we got a good crowd, nearly 20,000.
It shocked a lot of people how hot it was in Denver for the game, especially coming in from winter at home. It was near 30 degrees, more like days you get during early pre-season training. And of course, we were playing at the Denver Broncos’ famous Mile High Stadium (Sports Authority Field), so breathing felt a bit different at some stages of the game due to the altitude.
You can understand why the Broncos have always had a strong home-field advantage in the NFL. You can imagine that training in the altitude would make you much fitter and stronger, and make a difference when teams visit that aren’t used to the thinner air.
The boys did pretty well acclimatising, because it turned out to be a fast-paced game.
The emotion of representing my country at Test level for the first time took over me and I wasn’t going to let anything ruin it.
The Denver training facilities are very impressive. Being a successful NFL franchise, they’ve got the best of everything. It’s an eye-opener, seeing what they work with – it’s way different to Concord! A quarter of their weight training room is bigger than our Concord facilities, though we do have everything we need at Wests Tigers.
The main stadium is impressive, with a 76,000 capacity. They have three full-size training fields outside with heated turf. The practice facility is 115,000 square feet, including a full-length indoor field, so they can train regardless of the weather.
It was certainly an interesting place to make my Test debut.
It was massive for me, playing for the Kiwis. I loved being in camp with the team. Watching a Kiwi legend like Issac Luke go about his business was great and I loved being around other guys making their debut like Jamayne Isaako.
Scoring a try – so much emotion went into that try. Growing up as a kid, you always dream of those moments. I was so proud that my family got to see that. It was exciting too, knowing how much inspiration I got from the players who have come before me, to think about kids in New Zealand watching me score that try.
Benji Marshall was one of those players who was a massive inspiration for me. To now be able to train and play with him every week at Wests Tigers, it’s amazing. I’m very lucky to have that opportunity. Not many people can say they’ve played with one of the legends of the game and one of their heroes.
Rebuilding the Kiwis
I made the Junior Kiwis two years ago. That was emotional enough. I never in a million years thought that two years later, and just a year since my NRL debut, that I’d be playing for the Kiwis in a Test.
Any time you pull on that black jersey, representing not only yourself but your family, I hold that very highly. My family went to so much effort when I was a kid to make sure I had opportunities to play rugby league and succeed.
Michael Maguire called me himself to tell me I was making my debut. He called in the morning and that whole day I was buzzing, I didn’t know what to think. I was so excited, realising that all my hard work over the years had paid off.
Michael was a chilled-out guy. Being new to the Kiwis job and with a new-look team, I guess he was just as nervous as some of us were. He made us younger players feel welcome in his camp and gave us confidence that we could go out and do the job.
Benji Marshall was one of those players who was a massive inspiration for me. To now be able to train and play with him every week at Wests Tigers, it’s amazing.
We had seven debutants in that game and it felt like a really young team. We had to learn quickly. But the boys all handled themselves well and enjoyed the experience.
It was unlucky that we didn’t get the win in Denver but now, those younger players know what it’s like in Test footy and will be better for the experience. I’ve tasted what it’s like at that level and I want to go back to my club and improve my game even further.
I’m excited for what the future holds with our national team.
First seen on Players Voice.
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Debutants Esan Marsters and Ken Maumalo both gained almost 190 metres while James Fisher-Harris, Nelson Asofa-Solomona and Jared Waerea-Hargreaves led the defensive effort in the Kiwis’ 18-36 loss to England in Saturday’s historic Test at Mile High Stadium in Denver.
Centre Marsters, who scored the first try of the Test, finished with 188 metres from 13 runs while wing Maumalo had 187 metres from 18 carries.
Fisher-Harris topped the tackle count with 36 while Asofa-Solomona tallied 35 and Waerea-Hargreaves 34.
In the team stats, the Kiwis had to put up with a lopsided penalty count which ran 10-3 in England’s favour while they led the line breaks 7-4 and the off loads 27-11.
At Mile High Stadium, Denver
New Zealand Kiwis 18 (Dallin Watene-Zelezniak 2, Esan Marsters tries; Jamayne Isaako 3 conversions).
England 36 (Eliott Whitehead 2, John Bateman, Ryan Hall, Jake Connor, Tommy Makinson tries; Gareth Widdop 2 conversions, 2 penalties).
Halftime: 12-10 Kiwis.
Referee: Ben Thaler (England).
New Zealand Kiwis | Dallin Watene-Zelezniak; Jamayne Isaako, Esan Marsters, Peta Hiku, Ken Maumalo; Blake Green, Shaun Johnson; Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, Issac Luke, Nelson Asofa-Solomona; Raymond Faitala-Mariner, Joseph Tapine; Martin Taupau. Interchange: James Fisher-Harris, Slade Griffin, Herman Ese’ese, Leeson Ah Mau.
England | Stefan Ratchford; Jermaine McGillvary, John Bateman, Mark Percival, Ryan Hall; Jonny Lomax, Gareth Widdop; Chris Hill, James Roby, James Graham; Sam Burgess, Elliott Whitehead; Sean O’Loughlin (c). Interchange: Jake Connor, Thomas Burgess, Tommy Makinson, Scott Taylor.
Penalties | 3-10.
Completions | 20/32 (62%); 30/36 (83%)
Total metres | 1721-1844
Kicks | 11-16
Kicking metres | 334-409
Errors | 11-7
Line breaks | 7-4
Line break assists | 5-2
Tackles | 321-269
Missed tackles |50-44
Ineffective tackles | 13-36
Off loads | 27-11
Most metres |
Kiwis: Esan Marsters 188, Ken Maumalo 187, Dallin Watene-Zelezniak 176, Nelson Asofa-Solomona 143, Jamayne Isaako 117
England: Jermaine McGillvary 191, Sam Burgess 189, Elliott Whitehead 155, Ryan Hall 149, Thomas Burgess 148
Most post-contact metres |
Kiwis: Ken Maumalo 75, Nelson Asofa-Solomona 56, Joseph Tapine 44, Raymond Faitala-Mariner 39, Dallin Watene-Zelezniak 37
England: Sam Burgess 58, Jermaine McGillvary 57, Thomas Burgess 47, Ryan Hall 40, Scott Taylor 30, Chris Hill 30
Most runs |
Kiwis: Ken Maumalo 18, Dallin Watene-Zelezniak 17, Jamayne Isaako 13, Esan Marsters 13, Nelson Asofa-Solomona 13, Raymond Faitala-Mariner 13
England: Jermaine McGillvary 19, Sam Burgess 19, Ryan Hall 16, John Bateman 13, Elliott Whitehead 12, Thomas Burgess 12
Most tackle breaks |
Kiwis: Dallin Watene-Zelezniak 8, Esan Marsters 6, Issac Luke 5
England: Ryan Hall 7, Tommy Makinson 7
Most tackles |
Kiwis: James Fisher-Harris 36, Nelson Asofa-Solomona 35, Jared Waerea-Hargreaves 34, Issac Luke 29, Joseph Tapine 27
England: James Graham 39, James Roby 32, Sean O’Loughlin 25, Chris Hill 25, Scott Taylor 24
Off loads |
Kiwis: Dallin Watene-Zelezniak 5, Esan Marsters 4, Martin Taupau 3
England: Elliott Whitehead 4, John Bateman 3
Most supports |
Kiwis: Kodi Nikorima 15, Te Maire Martin 13, Dallin Watene-Zelezniak 13
England: Stefan Ratchford 22, Jake Connor 14, Gareth Widdop 12
Most decoys |
Kiwis: James Fisher-Harris 5, Nelson Asofa-Solomona 5, Leeson Ah Mau 4
England: James Graham 7, Elliott Whitehead 6, Thomas Burgess 4
A cracker first half in front of a 19,320 strong crowd wasn’t enough to make the Kiwis victorious against England at the Denver Test going down 18-36.
Esan Marsters, one of seven debutants started his Kiwis career with the first try of the match off the back of Kodi Nikorima’s quick feet and offload. Marsters backed that up with some moments of brilliance on attack and when partnering with Peta Hiku, was a weapon the English struggled to stop.
Oustanding in the fullback position, Dallin Watene-Zelezniak got his reward, the first of his two tries following a line-break from veteran Issac Luke. Another conversion from Jamayne Isaako bringing the score to 12-0.
Wayne Bennett’s men trailed 12-0 before Connor was thrust into action after a number of defensive lapses by five-eighth Jonny Lomax and set up two first-half tries before scoring one himself as England continued the form which took them to last year’s World Cup final.
After running in a converted and unconverted try, England chewed away at the Kiwis’ lead taking the score to 12-10 as they ran into the sheds at halftime.
The Kiwis were starved of the ball in the second half making several mistakes that cost them. Although he showed fine form in a Test that has reinvigorated his Kiwis career, Issac Luke was guilty of kicking the ball over the dead ball line on the full three times conceding penalties for each.
England halfback Gareth Widdop landed a 50-metre penalty goal with ease after Isaako’s 55th-minute mistake, while there was limited kicking in general play.
The Kiwis started the better team and played an attacking brand of football in their first Test under Michael Maguire, while forwards Martin Taupau and Nelson Asofa-Solomona kept the crowd entertained with some big hits in the opening minutes.
It was a different England side in the second half and Widdop levelled the scores in the 46th minute with a penalty goal after Luke stepped on the hand of England centre.
England took control of the game following Whitehead’s second try in the 53rd minute after replacement Tommy Makinson swooped on a Widdop grubber.
A 56th-minute penalty goal by Widdop from halfway put England ahead 20-12 and Connor scored a try for himself when he beat Nikorima and Jared Waerea-Hargreaves before dummying past Watene-Zelezniak in the 60th minute.
Fellow rookie Makinson scored a long-range try in the 65th minute before Watene-Zelezniak scored his second try of the match. Final score, 18-36.
The career of St George Illawarra forward Leeson Ah Mau has come full circle, with the 28-year-old set to fulfil a lifelong ambition to play for the Kiwis in this weekend’s Denver Test before next season’s move home to New Zealand with the Warriors.
Ah Mau, who has been in career-best form for the Dragons, represented Samoa in 16 Tests but he grew up in Auckland dreaming of wearing a black jersey and is understood to have had discussions with New Zealand officials about playing for the Kiwis at last year’s World Cup.
After being overlooked for the tournament, Ah Mau again played for Samoa and he had been resigned to never being selected for New Zealand until new coach Michael Maguire phoned him about the June 23 Test against England at Mile High Stadium.
“Madge called me a couple of weeks ago to kind of get a gauge of where I was at and he said that I was in the picture,” Ah Mau told NRL.com.
“I was pretty shocked and at the same time pretty excited about representing New Zealand.
“I grew up in Auckland, and as a young kid it was definitely a dream to represent my country of birth. Mum and Dad were born in Samoa so in the past I have represented them but I am definitely honoured and grateful, and it is a dream come true to be here at the moment.”
Ah Mau played for the Junior Kiwis in 2006 and 2007, while playing in the Intrust Super Premiership for the Warriors and he made his NRL debut for the club in 2009.
After two seasons with North Queensland and seven for St George Illawarra, Ah Mau will return to the Warriors in 2019 in a move that will enable him to be closer to his parents, Isaak and Vaaiga, and wife Rose’s family.
In a sign of how much family means to the 110kg prop, NRL.com was told that there was little difference between the money the Warriors and Dragons offered him but he turned down a more lucrative offer from Newcastle.
“I owe a lot to the Dragons. We have been doing pretty well this season so I guess that helps to get these little rewards because of what we are doing down at the Dragons,” Ah Mau said.
Seen first on nrl.com:
While Peta Hiku knows what it’s all about, new team-mate Jamayne Isaako is just three days away from his first taste of Test football when the New Zealand Kiwis face England in Saturday’s historic ‘Big hits, no pads’ international at Denver’s Mile High Stadium.
The relative veteran Hiku, with 10 Tests to his name, and the exciting Isaako were in the media’s focus today.
Only just turned 22, Christchurch-born and raised Isaako is in his first full NRL season after making his debut with the Broncos last year.
Appearing in each of the Broncos’ 14 games so far this year, he already has 115 points from eight tries, 41 goals and a field goal.
The goal-kicking arm of his game also has him competing for the kicking responsibilities in the Denver Test alongside other sharp operators Issac Luke, Jordan Kahu and Esan Marsters.
Isaako, whose background as a young player was in rugby union, is taking in his rapid rise in rugby league after originally being scouted by Cronulla before moving to the Broncos.
After just a day and a half in Denver, he has been absorbing his selection and now his first day training alongside his Kiwi team-mates.
“To be honest it never crossed my mind about being selected to play for the Kiwis,” Isaako said after the field session.
“It was about a week or two before the selection was made that I got a phone call. ‘Madge’ (Maguire) gave me a call and said the team wasn’t finalised but I was in a good spot for being selected.
“I was shocked that I got a call from him to represent my country. I definitely wasn’t expecting that.”
While Isaako is soaking it all up, Hiku, who normally plays on the right edge inside David Fusitu’a with the Vodafone Warriors, has been running on the left edge with his other club-mate and first-time Kiwi Ken Maumalo.
The Kiwis have further field and gym sessions tomorrow, the training session at the University of Denver being the second and last full run before Friday’s final field outing at Mile High Stadium ahead of the Test on Saturday.
Later in the afternoon Maguire will release his Test team.
New Zealand Kiwis players can’t say enough about the measures taken to ensure they arrived in Denver in the best shape possible for Saturday’s historic Test against England at Mile High Stadium.
Little more than two hours after settling into their accommodation in downtown Denver, new Head Coach Michael Maguire, team doctor Greg Macleod and Penrith Panthers utility Dallin Watene-Zelezniak all said the team’s travel strategy had worked well.
Watene-Zelezniak said the players had been totally impressed with the measures put in place.
“The doctor gave us times that we needed to sleep, times we needed to eat, the water we needed to drink, and all the boxes have been ticked,” he said.
“It’s actually been really cool to learn about how to prepare for games like this … I feel that we’ve been treated like kings.”
Travelling in business class on United Airlines, the players were in the air for close to 17 hours as they flew more than 13,500 kilometres.
Macleod was pleased with the players’ condition.
“I feel we’ve arrived ready considering how far we’ve come and what we’ve had to do … we’re pretty happy,” he said.
“There was a lot of talk around this trip and the potential risks and the player welfare issues … so the planning for this trip started well before we arrived.”
Massage was on the menu post-flight tonight and the players will have more massage sessions this week to optimise their preparation for the Test. The players also had a photo shoot – including a team photo – soon after arriving.
For new coach Michael Maguire tomorrow (Tuesday in Denver) means real business at last as he guides the Kiwis in a field session for the first time. There’ll be another field session on Wednesday and a final run on Friday after a day off on Thursday. There’ll also be strength work tomorrow and on Wednesday.
Outside their training schedule, the Kiwis are set to see the Colorado Rockies take on the New York Mets in Major League Baseball on Wednesday evening.
Seven players are in line to make their Test debuts for the New Zealand Kiwis after being named in the 19-man squad for the historic international against England at Mile High Stadium in Denver, Colorado, on Saturday, June 23.
In what will be his first Test as head coach Michael Maguire has called up wings Ken Maumalo (Vodafone Warriors) and Jamayne Isaako (Brisbane Broncos), centre Esan Marsters (Wests Tigers), front rowers Leeson Ah Mau (St George Illawarra Dragons) and Herman Ese’ese (Newcastle Knights), hooker Slade Griffin (Newcastle Knights) and second rower Raymond Faitala-Mariner (Canterbury-Bankstown).
“I’m excited for each of them and for everyone included for the first major rugby league international ever played in the United States,” said Maguire.
“We have a group of players here who have all been in great form so far this season and totally deserve this chance.
“What has really struck home is just how passionate the players have been when talking to them about playing for the Kiwis and about this Test. They’re busting to be involved.
“It’s also hugely exciting on a personal level to not only be involved in coaching again but to have the privilege of doing so with New Zealand.”
Maguire resumes his coaching career after winning grand finals with South Sydney and Wigan as well as guiding Wigan to Challenge Cup success.
As well as the seven potential debutants, Maguire will have a core of experience in hooker Issac Luke (Vodafone Warriors), front rowers Jared Waerea-Hargreaves (Sydney Roosters) and Martin Taupau (Manly Warringah Sea Eagles) plus centre Peta Hiku (Vodafone Warriors).
“This is our first opportunity to create an expectation towards taking the Kiwi jersey back to the top of international rugby league,” said Maguire.
Of the newcomers, the most experienced is Ah Mau (27), who started his 168-game NRL career with the Vodafone Warriors in 2009. He has tasted international football with 16 Tests for Toa Samoa including last year’s Rugby League World Cup. Maumalo, Ese’ese and Faitala-Mariner have also played at Test level for Samoa while Marsters has represented Cook Islands.
The Kiwis have assembled in Sydney before flying out for Denver tomorrow morning.
NEW ZEALAND KIWIS | DENVER TEST
Frank Endacott reflects on his days as Kiwis Head Coach, the passion and pride that comes with playing for your country and memories of Kiwis legends such as Stacey Jones.
“I remember Stacey Jones watching TV at 10 o’clock at night sitting there in his Kiwis jersey two days before the Test – the pride he had in playing for his country was phenomenal…”
Want to watch the Kiwis take on England at Mile High Stadium in Denver?
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There’ll be Kiwis players galore when the Tigers come to town to take on the Warriors this Saturday night (7.30pm) in Auckland.
While there’ll be Kiwi touches around Mt Smart stadium the most visible demonstration will be on the field.
In the first eight rounds, the Vodafone Warriors fielded 16 New Zealanders and the Tigers won’t be lacking in Kiwi talent either. Tigers co-captains Russell Packer, Elijah Taylor and former Kiwis captain Benji Marshall are just a few of the Kiwi players coming to New Zealand for round nine of the NRL.
Watch out for the Kiwis players who could be in contention for a spot in the squad that takes on England in Denver later next month.
It’s Kiwiana night this Saturday when we take on the Wests Tigers. Be sure to grab that Swanni, chuck on your stubbies…
Posted by Vodafone Warriors on Monday, 30 April 2018
It’s Kiwiana night this Saturday when we take on the Wests Tigers. Be sure to grab that Swanni, chuck on your stubbies…
Posted by Vodafone Warriors on Monday, 30 April 2018
Former Kiwi legends are rallying together in support of the mid-year clash between the New Zealand Kiwis and England scheduled to go ahead in Denver.
Stomping ground of the Denver Broncos, Mile High Stadium will host the international match on 23 June where Americans will get a taste of world-class rugby league for the first time.
While the Test in Denver is set to challenge the status quo of where international rugby league is played, former Kiwi legends Olsen Filipaina, Ali Lauitiiti and Henry Fa’afili are right behind the new fixture.
Kiwi #529 Olsen Filipaina and Kiwi #677 Ali Lauitiiti played 28 and 19 Tests respectively for the Kiwis and both say taking the game to Denver is an important step for rugby league to move forward.
“I fully support the Kiwis playing in Denver – how else is our game of rugby league going to expand if we don’t showcase it to other countries? Let’s give them a taste of Kiwi,” Filipaina says.
Exploring all international and commercial opportunities for the Kiwis becomes an essential part of growing the game. Expanding into the North American market would, in turn, allow New Zealand Rugby League to better support and resource grassroots rugby league throughout the country.
Lauitiiti is excited to share the game he loves with those in America who haven’t yet had the opportunity to experience ‘the hits’ in real life.
“Personally, I think it’s a great initiative and it’s worked for other sports so why can’t rugby league do the same thing. It’s our great game so why not bless the rest of the world with it,” he says.
Like Ali Lauitiiti, Kiwi #687 Henry Fa’afili remembers his days in the black and white jersey very fondly and only wishes he could do his time again running out at the world renowned Mile High Stadium.
“It would be disappointing if the game in Denver weren’t to go ahead. We’ve got the opportunity to make history with our great game so I think we need to embrace it,” Fa’afili says.
“You only have to see the excitement and reaction from the Americans when Shaun’s twinkle toes are on show. Then there’s Roger’s speed to beat players one on one, and Marty’s strength and power to fend and run over players. For them to experience it first-hand I think will be talked about for a long time,” he added.
Filipaina, Lauitiiti and Fa’afili, alongside a number of other former Kiwis continue to support the growth of rugby league in New Zealand even after hanging up the boots. This includes NZRL Board Member Tawera Nikau and Wellbeing Manager Nigel Vagana who work behind the scenes at NZRL to ensure rugby league continues to benefit New Zealanders across the country.
With the New Zealand Kiwis clash against England heading to Denver on 23 June, Americans will get the chance to experience rugby league in their backyard fore the first time…
Preparations for the Kiwis’ ground-breaking Test against England in Denver are coming together nicely, New Zealand Rugby League confirms.
The RLIF sanctioned match scheduled to be held on 23 June at Mile High Stadium will bring international rugby league to North America for the first time. With planning stages of the fixture in full-swing, NZRL can confirm the players’ insurance policy was also locked in earlier this week.
Players selected to represent their country while in Denver will continue to receive benefits that mirror the current NRL representative, State of Origin and ANZAC Test insurance policies in place. They will also receive the extra insurance required for playing in the United States.
In addition to medical concerns being allayed by Doctor, Greg Macleod, the confirmation of the insurance policy was another essential part of the planning stages that ensures the players will be well looked after.
Ample due diligence and player welfare is always at the forefront of planning for Tests in any part of the world and Kiwis Manager Nadene Conlon says the Test in Denver is no different.
“There’s always a lot of preparation that goes into any fixture the Kiwis play in, whether it’s a Test or a tour, and travelling overseas, regardless of where it is means the same rigorous processes are undertaken,” Conlon says.
“Of course playing in Denver brings with it some unique considerations but having experts on board like Greg Macleod allows us to be prepared in the best possible manner,” she says.
West Tigers co-captain Elijah Taylor and Warriors prop Adam Blair are a couple of the Kiwi eligible players who say excitement for the Test in Denver is brewing among the player networks.
“Pulling on the Kiwis jersey is always an honour and privilege – it’s the pinnacle for any New Zealand Rugby League player,”
“Any opportunity I get I’ll grab with both hands and I’m 100 percent committed to every Kiwi game wherever it’s played,”
“I understand the NRL clubs have concerns about playing in Denver, so it’s great to see the player insurance has been sorted for the Test, along with Doctor Macleod’s reassuring words that the conditions over there don’t increase our chances of injury,”
“In the camps I’ve been a part of with the Kiwis, we’ve been well looked after and I expect the Test in Denver will be no different,”
“If the Kiwis have future games in the Pacific Islands or Europe, I will be just as committed to making the Kiwis squad if given the privilege to play for my country,” Kiwi #770 Taylor says.
Kiwi #732 and RLPA Director Adam Blair adds, “everything looks like it’s falling into place and I’m excited not only for the international game but for NZRL as this is a great opportunity to show case our game in America.”
Applications for Kiwis head coach close later this afternoon when the high-powered coach selection panel will proceed to the next stage of the selection process.
By Adam Pengilly – Sydney Morning Herald
A sports medicine specialist who will act as New Zealand’s official team doctor for the proposed Denver Test – and has vast experience with Super Rugby sides playing at altitude – insists there is no science to support growing player welfare concerns over the contentious fixture.
The Kiwis’ travelling physician Dr Greg Macleod, who once helped prepare the Otago Highlanders for a gruelling six-week round-the-world odyssey where they played on a different continent each week, stressed players would not be more exposed to injury if the mid-season match went ahead.
The NRL, its clubs and the Rugby League Players Association will hand a letter to the New Zealand Rugby League and Rugby Football League this week, escalating their resistance against the fixture being played at Denver’s Mile High Stadium.
But Dr Macleod was adamant that the expected Denver heat, travel toll and altitude would not increase the injury risk for the millions of dollars of NRL talent that could make the trip.
A proposal to have the number of interchanges rise from the internationally recognised 10 to 12 as well drinks breaks midway through each half has been discussed for the Test, which is hoped to provide rugby league with a toehold in the United States before the 2025 World Cup.
Asked about playing at the highest altitude city in the United States, current Queensland Reds doctor Dr Macleod told Fairfax Media: “It’s not what I would consider significantly high altitude and it is not the level of altitude where you would expect altitude sickness.
“I would say 1600 metres is above a level where you feel the effects in terms of performance, but Johannesburg is over 2000 metres and we have Test matches and Super Rugby games there, including travel, all the time.
“I’ve spoken to medical staff in Denver – including paramedics who run the medical support at the stadium and work with the [NFL’s Denver] Broncos – and one gentleman who has been there for 27 years as a paramedic said he’s never seen a case of altitude-related illness from people playing at Mile High Stadium.
“This is NFL where guys are 350 pounds and 150 kilos and playing in full gear. I know it’s a different sport, but it doesn’t seem to happen for guys that have played there.
“You’ve got to remember Denver and Colorado has an Olympic training centre and people deliberately go there to train at altitude and deliberately go there to put themselves under physiological stress and challenge themselves to improve their performance. No one has any welfare concerns regarding that.
“I just can’t see how 1600 metres is a concern because it’s not proven [scientifically]. I’ve never seen anyone have health consequences because they’ve played at this sort of altitude.”
Some NRL players, including the Dragons’ Gareth Widdop and James Graham, would need to fulfil NRL commitments with St George Illawarra a little more than 48 hours after arriving back in Australia after the Test, which has been mooted for June 24.
Both have given their backing for the match, which could be played in temperatures around the 30-degree mark in the northern hemisphere’s early summer.
Dr Macleod argued NRL and Super Rugby pre-season and early regular season matches are often played in searing heat nudging the 40-degree mark, as evidenced when Manly brutalised Parramatta a little over a week ago at Lottoland.
That clash kicked off as the mercury nudged 39 degrees and didn’t feature any mid-game drinks breaks.
“Denver has dry heat and a low humidity so that 30 degrees is a much more comfortable temperature than if it was combined with humidity,” Dr Macleod said. “The heat thing is a non-issue and we have many examples of players playing in higher heat and more extreme conditions than that.”
If the match gets the green light, New Zealand players will travel in business class to Denver to allow for better sleep patterns as well as using masks to help with hydration and reduce the chance of picking up viruses.
While conceding the heavy travel schedule could affect the performance of both New Zealand and England, Dr Macleod denied it would enhance the chances of any player picking up an injury – and would be no greater risk than if a NSW or Queensland representative turned out for his club 48 hours after a State of Origin match.
“The theory that you can’t travel, but play a lot of games in a short space of time seems a bit odd,” he said. “It is a long way and no one is denying that, but it’s not the furthest a sports team has travelled.
“If you look at what the [Rugby] Sevens guys do – which is a far greater travel load than what we’re looking at here – there was a study which followed players over a five-year period and it confirmed there is no increased significant injury risk for them as opposed to players who didn’t travel that far.
“Travel does affect performance, but both teams are in the same boat.”
Dr Macleod said he is yet to be consulted by anyone acting on behalf of the NRL about player welfare issues that may stem from the Denver match on June 24.
By Steve Mascord
The Denver Test is one of those rugby league issues that is easy to become emotionally invested in and spend hours on social media arguing about.
With each passing day there is another story – most out of Australia – questioning the timing and venue of an international not involving the Kangaroos on a weekend that has no NRL games, with attempts to cast continuing doubt over whether players will be released.
If the distance won’t work as an excuse why players should not be released – England travelled further last year to play Samoa in Campbelltown – then it’s the altitude, even though presumably they don’t use a lever to lower the Sports Authority Stadium when the Broncos’ rival NFL teams visit.
Hell – pun intended – officials in Australia, who play friendlies in February heat and have a team in tropical north Queensland – have even cited the temperature in June as a major concern.
Your columnist could go on and on about this…….
But then I remembered that when I grew up watching rugby league, some of the best overseas players never represented their countries anywhere, let alone at Mile High Stadium.
When Malcolm Reilly and Tommy Bishop went Down Under, they mostly gave up their Great Britain shirts.
Brian Bevan, probably the greatest Australian winger of all time, never wore the green and gold because he lived in Warrington.
The first New Zealand player I was ever aware of, Henry Tatana, played his whole nine-Test international career before he crossed the Tasman to join Canterbury and then my favourite team as a kid, St George.
This list goes on. Dane and Kurt Sorensen, the Cronulla greats, had to listen to the Kiwis on the radio at their peak because they would not be released mid-season to play for their country.
We rugby league tree-hugging liberals use soccer as an example to support our arguments but Australian soccer’s famous Liverpool man, Craig Johnston, didn’t wear the green and gold either. Ever.
The stand-alone Origin weekend presents rugby league with a unique style of ‘FIFA window’ this year. It’s new territory. Of course there is going to be push-back from clubs and others protecting their own interests.
What we are experiencing are merely growing pains. If there was such a concentration of the world’s best in one competition in other sports, those domestic competitions would try it on, too.
In 2006, a New Zealand side with just three NRL players met a Great Britain line-up with one (Adrian Morley) in the middle of the season at Knowsley Road. At 46-14 to GB, it was a bit one-sided. But international rugby league didn’t spontaneously combust. They had to field teams and they did.
So while I could continue to wax sarcasm over the administrative soap opera surrounding the Denver Test on June 23, I’m going to try really hard to focus on how far we’ve come since the days of Bevan, Reilly, Bishop, Tatana and the Sorensens.
We’re playing a mid-season Test at a neutral venue, just like the big boys of international sport. It’s something to be happy, not bitter and twisted, about.
There’s a Test on at Sports Authority Field. New Zealand and England have agreed to field the best teams they can. Tickets have been sold.
I’m going. So are some of you. The stragglers will catch up with us when they’re ready.
The Kiwis will play a ground-breaking Test match on 23 June against England in Denver, Colorado, the first time the countries currently ranked two and three in world Rugby League have met in the United States.
Chair of the New Zealand Rugby League (NZRL) Reon Edwards said the Test is an important step for the code’s international development.
“Rugby League is making impressive strides in the United States and Canada. This Test match is an opportunity to showcase the highest level of our sport in the North American market, which has significant participation and commercial potential. NZRL has worked with the Rugby Football League and the Rugby League International Federation on this, agreeing to play a New Zealand-England Test in the United States each year for the next three years,” he said.
Denver’s storied Mile High Stadium, which has a capacity of 76,000 and is home of 2016 NFL Super Bowl Champions the Denver Broncos, will host the historic June Test match.
Kiwis stalwart Simon Mannering said: “I think it’s a great concept and one I wish was around five years ago when I was a bit younger. Growing our game internationally has to be a priority – think of the opportunities we could create for our game if it was a genuine international sport played all over the world.
“I know it’ll be tough for some NRL clubs to see the importance at first, but if we really care about the game, then I think it’s something we have to support. I definitely will.”
Another notable Test for the Kiwis will be Australia coming to New Zealand for the first time since 2014. From this year the ANZAC fixture will move to the end of the season, and alternate annually between Australia and New Zealand. A rematch of the Rugby League Women’s World Cup final between the Kiwi Ferns and the Jillaroos will feature on the ANZAC Test programme, together with the Junior Kiwis taking on the Junior Kangaroos. This is part of NZRL’s commitment to staging more games in New Zealand.
The three-Test series in England announced late 2017 will be followed by a one-off Test in France.
Recent Rugby League developments in North America include the Toronto Wolfpack, Canada’s first professional Rugby League team, winning the Rugby Football League’s third tier Kingstone Press League 1 title, gaining promotion in their inaugural season in 2017, and making a successful start to the 2018 in the Rugby League Championship. Success at that level will secure promotion to Europe’s top tier Super League. Several other North American clubs are contemplating similar moves.
In 2016 the 2025 Rugby League World Cup was provisionally awarded to North America, with the United States and Canada to co-host.
Kiwis’ 2018 Test Programme
Saturday 23 June 2018; Kiwis v England; Denver, Colorado, USA
Saturday 13 October 2018; Kiwis v Australia; Auckland, NZ
Saturday 27 October 2018; England v Kiwis; Hull, England
Saturday 3 November 2018; England v Kiwis; Liverpool, England
Sunday 11 November 2018; England v Kiwis; Leeds, England