Opinion: The great Kiwis rugby league clean-out

OPINION: Change is happening for the Kiwis - it had to be done.

After the abysmal World Cup, there's a new coach and there has to be a new selection approach. We already know there won't be a captain for this month's test against England but what else will be different? 

Throw in injuries to names like Jesse Bromwich, Benji Marshall and Jordan Rapana, retirements from Simon Mannering, Russell Packer and Ben Matulino, and question marks over the availability of Shaun Johnson and Roger Tuivasa-Sheck - coach Michael Maguire's got no choice, but to try a fresh approach. 

So if now is the time to blood raw talent, here's a list of footy players whose test careers should be kick-started - and those who may not be needed for the Denver test.  


Esan Marsters 

He’s still fresh in his NRL career, but he has looked right at home in the centres for the Tigers. 

Good turn of pace, a bit of size and some flash footwork makes him a handful for any team. He's played backrow for the Junior Kiwis too - got to love that versatility. 

Jamayne Isaako 

Opinion: The great Kiwis rugby league clean-out
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The loss of Rapana has opened a spot on the wing and Issako could be just the man to fill it. He’s taken his chances with the Broncos this year and has earned comparisons to a young Israel Folau. 

Like Marsters, he's taken on goal-kicking duties early in his first-grade career, a clear sign of composure in such a young player. 

Brandon Smith 

Has been part of the Kiwis as a cadet player before - and it's only a matter of time before he graduates. 

Rugged, competitive and part of a winning culture in Melbourne, this young man will inherit Cameron Smith’s number nine jersey one day, but should get his hands on the Kiwis one before that.

He may need to wait in line behind Maguire's former Rabbitohs rake Issac Luke, but his ability to play as a running forward - he's often on the field at the same time as Cam Smith for the Storm - gives him an extra string to his bow. 

Agnatius Paasi 

His return to Auckland with the Warriors has been a revelation and he owns a place in the starting pack. Full of energy, always aggressive, Paasi is a player that leaves nothing in the tank, which is exactly what the Kiwis need. 

He's played for his country of birth - Tonga - four years ago. Paasi moved to NZ as a three-year-old, so it's up to him to decide if he's prepared to commit to the black jersey. 

Corey Harawira-Naera 

He’s been so impressive for the Panthers in the last few seasons. High work rate, takes a backward step to no-one and always in the right place at the right time.  

He's an unsung hero in the best-performing team in the NRL and his fringe running would be a huge asset for whoever's deemed fit enough for the Kiwis halves.  

Opinion: The great Kiwis rugby league clean-out
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Jason Nightingale 

One of the Kiwis' most reliable players of the past decade, Nightingale has never let himself or the team down (ok, one bad fumble ages ago, but we’re past that). 

But like leaving out Manu Vatuvei, it’s time for the team to go with fresh blood with all the talent on the flanks. That the Dragons benched him this weekend is a sign that Nightingale's time at test level may be up. 

Jason Taumalolo 

Who wouldn’t want this man in your team - any team? But the simple fact remains, he made his bed and we all need to lie in it. 

Taumalolo chose Tonga over the Kiwis at the World Cup and like David Fusitu’a, the big backrower should stay there.  He will be a big distraction if called back in and Kiwis fans will be waiting for his next defection, and I don't think that's the message Maguire needs to send.  

Jared Waerea-Hargreaves 


He's been one of the NRL's best props for a long time and has been great for New Zealand too, but for a senior player, Waerea-Hargraves hasn't taken his chances to perform at test level in recent times. 

With the departures of Mannering, Packer and Matulino, and absence of Bromwich, there could be an argument for his experience. But the likes of Nelson Asofa-Solomona, Marty Taupau, Tohu Harris and Adam Blair should be expected to fill that void.

Shaun Kenny-Dowall 

One of the most whole-hearted players to ever pull on the jersey, Kenny-Dowall's competing with a large number of outside backs for roles with the Kiwis. 

His form has improved since heading to the Knights and he still has something to offer at any level, but there are others putting their hand up higher for this test. 

Thomas Leuluai 

A massively under-estimated member of New Zealand's successes at test level, Leuluai is one of the last survivors from the 2008 World Cup triumph - only Issac Luke and Adam Blair remain in the selection frame - and still going strong for Wigan. 

Opinion: The great Kiwis rugby league clean-out
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But even with the injuries hitting the spine right now, the time has come to put faith in the younger brigade. Te Marie Martin and Kodi Nikorima can slot into the halves with Johnson, even with no Benji Marshall or Kieran Foran.

At dummy half, Luke, Smith and Danny Levi should be higher up the pecking order. 

Sam Ackerman is Newshub head of sport.