Auckland, New Zealand, October 4, 2023 – Seven players are in line to make their New Zealand debuts after being named in the Kiwis’ 21-man squad for the inaugural Pacific Championships.
The potential debutants are led by North Queensland prop Griffin Neame, a non-playing member of the New Zealand squad for last year’s mid-season Test against Mate Ma’a Tonga.
Also named is Christchurch-born Newcastle utility Fa’amanu Brown, who comes into the New Zealand squad for the first time after representing Toa Samoa at last year’s Rugby League World Cup.
Joining Neame and Brown are Parramatta and Māori All Stars front rower Wiremu Greig, 19-year-old Gold Coast NRL rookie fullback Keano Kini, Newcastle and Māori All Stars prop Leo Thompson, Canberra centre Matthew Timoko and Sydney Roosters middle forward Naufahu Whyte.
Two former Kiwis who have also played for Samoa have been recalled.
Dolphins winger Jamayne Isaako finished the 2023 NRL season as both the leading try scorer and the top points scorer. He last represented the Kiwis against Great Britain in 2019 as well as representing Samoa earlier that season.
And experienced Canberra and Māori All Stars hooker Danny Levi returns after last playing for New Zealand at the 2017 Rugby League World Cup. He has represented Toa Samoa since 2019 including at the World Cup last year.
The remaining 12 players named were all in the Kiwis’ line-up for their World Cup semi-final against the Kangaroos when they were denied 16-14 in an epic battle at Elland Road in Leeds.
Returning from the backline that night are 2022 Golden Boot winner Joseph Manu, Ronaldo Mulitalo, Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad, Dylan Brown and Jahrome Hughes.
Penrith’s premiership-winning props James Fisher-Harris and Moses Leota are back along with Isaiah Papali’i, Briton Nikora, Joseph Tapine, Kieran Foran and Nelson Asofa Solomona.
“It’s always a real thrill being able to bring new players into the Kiwi camp,” said New Zealand Kiwis head coach Michael Maguire.
“It’s a special place and these men have earned the opportunity. They’ll benefit so much from being around players who have done the jersey proud.
“This series is exciting for the game in New Zealand and also a chance for us to start our journey to the next World Cup in 2025.”
The Kiwis begin their campaign against Toa Samoa in a Labour Weekend triple header at Eden Park on Saturday, October 21 before facing the Kangaroos in Melbourne a week later.
The series final will be played in Hamilton on November 4.
NELSON ASOFA-SOLOMONA Melbourne Storm
DYLAN BROWN Parramatta Eels
FA’AMANU BROWN Newcastle Knights
JAMES FISHER-HARRIS Penrith Panthers
KIERAN FORAN Gold Coast Titans
WIREMU GREIG Parramatta Eels
JAHROME HUGHES Melbourne Storm
JAMAYNE ISAAKO The Dolphins
KEANO KINI Gold Coast Titans
MOSES LEOTA Penrith Panthers
DANNY LEVI Canberra Raiders
JOSEPH MANU Sydney Roosters
RONALDO MULITALO Cronulla Sharks
GRIFFIN NEAME North Queensland Cowboys
CHARNZE NICOLL-KLOKSTAD One NZ Warriors
BRITON NIKORA Cronulla Sharks
ISAIAH PAPALI’I Wests Tigers
JOSEPH TAPINE Canberra Raiders
LEO THOMPSON Newcastle Knights
MATTHEW TIMOKO Canberra Raiders
NAUFAHU WHYTE Sydney Roosters