The first Kiwis team of the Rugby League World Cup has been named and it includes all five players in the squad from the NRL grand final-winning Sydney Roosters side. Two of them – Sam Moa and Roger Tuivasa-Sheck – are set to make their Kiwi Test debuts, while Sonny Bill Williams will play his first game for the Kiwis since the ANZAC Test of 2008.
Stephen Kearney, the Kiwis coach, chose his side with Samoa firmly in mind.
“I looked first at who we were playing,” said Kearney. “I think this Kiwis side is the best one for us, at this time, against this opposition.”
Kearney was keen to get the firepower of the in-form Roosters players out on the park. “The Roosters boys have brought energy and momentum into camp,” he said, “and I thought it was important to capitalise on that.”
On the wings, Kearney has gone for Manu Vatuvei – the Vodafone Warriors’ all-time leading try-scorer – and Tuivasa-Sheck – the Dally M ‘Winger of the Year’.
“It’s a matter of giving Roger an opportunity,” said Kearney. “There’s a real depth of talent on the wings and I’m very mindful of making sure we’re keeping everyone with their hands on the footy. Jason Nightingale had a game last week (against the Cook Islands) and played really well. But it’s a great opportunity for Roger. He’s going to have the rest of his Roosters boys in the group and that will certainly help him.”
The other debuting Rooster – Sam Moa – has impressed his coach since the squad first assembled in Sydney on October 12. “Seeing Sam close up in camp, and seeing how hard he works, you can see why he has achieved what he has.”
In the Second Row, Williams – who debuted for the Kiwis as an 18yo in 2004 (alongside Kearney in his final Test match) – will start with Frank Pritchard.
“Sonny brings a sense of confidence to people around him,” says Kearney. “He puts his hand up and he delivers. He has such talent, but he understands that his main role is defence and he’s got to get down and get dirty sometimes.”
Dean Whare and Bryson Goodwin start in the Centres. “Bryson has had a wonderful year with South Sydney – and he played well when I brought him on in the second half last week, “said Kearney. “Dean has played very strongly in his two Tests for the Kiwis and he knows how to get the job done. But Krisnan Inu will get another opportunity shortly.”
Simon Mannering, playing in his 31st Test, is set to Captain his country for the first time – having missed the opportunity to do so mid-year due to injury. Thomas Leuluai, who is still nursing a minor groin complaint, was not considered for selection.
The Kiwis vs Samoa match kicks off at 6pm October 27 (UK time) at Halliwell Jones Stadium, Warrington. The match will be shown live on SKY Sport in NZ on Monday morning October 28 from 6.45am.