Mika Vukona omitted from Tall Blacks squad for upcoming World Cup qualifiers

The experienced forward will miss upcoming matches against China and South Korea.
The experienced forward will miss upcoming matches against China and South Korea. Photo credit: Getty Images

Veteran forward Mika Vukona will miss New Zealand's next two World Cup qualifying games in Asia.

Vukona was omitted from Paul Henare's 15-man squad, which will be trimmed to 12, ahead of games against China on February 23 and South Korea in Seoul three days later.

He was declared unfit by the Breakers medical staff, as he continues to manage his way through a busy end to the regular season.

Despite his absence, Henare insists Vukona is still a part of the Tall Blacks future plans. 

"The advice on Mika is that he shouldn't travel and play in these games, and has therefore not been released," Henare said.    

"He remains an integral part of our group, however, and plays a huge role in what we are trying to achieve in the long term."

The 35-year-old has been replaced by Dan Fotu, a development player with the Breakers, who is a younger brother of fellow international Isaac.

Henare says his team learned plenty from the 86-80 loss to the Koreans in Wellington during November's previous international window. 

"We have reviewed and gone over November's window in fine detail, but the bottom line is we didn't come out firing. We weren't as ready as we should have been against Korea in Wellington.

"This window has an even tighter schedule. We will get together for the first time as a group in China, have two days on the floor and then go to battle against a very good side, arguably one of the toughest in the world to beat at home.

"We have and will continue to do all we can to learn from November's experience, to be ready and to play as we expect the Tall Blacks to play, fighting for every possession, punching above our weight and not taking a backward step." 

Tall Blacks roster:

Guards: Shea Ili, Jarrod Kenny, Tai Webster, Derone Raukawa, Reuben Te Rangi, Corey Webster, Ethan Rusbatch.

Forwards: Tom Abercrombie, Jordan Ngatai, Finn Delany, Dan Fotu, Isaac Fotu, Tohi Milner-Smith.          

Centres: Rob Loe, Alex Pledger.