Rugby league: Cronulla Sharks wing Ronaldo Mulitalo named to wider Kiwis squad for World Cup

Cronulla Sharks wing Ronaldo Mulitalo is one of several newcomers named in New Zealand's wider squad for next year's Rugby League World Cup. 

NZ Rugby League has announced a 38-strong group for next October's tournament in the UK - delayed 12 months due to COVID-19 travel complications - as well as potential June tests against Australia and a Pacific nation, which are yet to be confirmed.

Although the announcement may seem premature, head coach Michael Maguire is earmarking players - like Mulitalo - who may be undecided with their international allegiance.

Also eligible for Samoa and the US, Mulitalo's inclusion doesn't necessarily cement his loyalty to New Zealand.

In June, the standout wing answered a late SOS from Queensland to replace injured Reece Walsh for State of Origin II, until NSW successfully contested his eligibility on the grounds he hadn't lived in the state before his 13th birthday.

Born and raised in Auckland, Mulitalo moved to Australia as a 14-year-old, representing Queensland at age U18 and U20 levels. 

Rising Manly Sea Eagles star Josh Schuster - nephew of former All Black John Schuster - is in a similar boat. While the Sydney-born 20-year-old is named to Maguire's squad, he's also played for NSW's U18 and U20 representative sides.

Selected as one of six NZ Warriors is playmaker Chanel Harris-Tavita, who has one test under his belt for Samoa, but is yet to feature in a black-and-white jersey.

Among the other uncapped players named are Brisbane Broncos back-rower and former Junior Kiwis captain Jordan Riki, Gold Coast Titans hooker Erin Clark, Sea Eagles centre Morgan Harper, Eels half Dylan Brown and second-rower Marata Niukore, and Melbourne Storm centre Reimis Smith.

Dally M Award winners Isaiah Papali'i, James Fisher-Harris and Brandon Smith headline the squad, alongside Storm sensation Jahrome Hughes, Sydney Roosters centre Joseph Manu, and Warriors half Shaun Johnson, forward Tohu Harris, Canberra Raiders Jordan Rapana and Joseph Tapine.

New Zealand haven't played a test match since 2019, due to travel restrictions caused by the pandemic.

"We have listed this wider squad, so players are aware that the upcoming pre-season and following season creates an enormous opportunity for them and this Kiwis team," Maguire says.

"International football has been a challenge, but the players' enthusiasm to represent their country is as strong as ever. There's no question as to how much this jersey means to them and their eagerness to play has never wavered.

"The senior players set a strong foundation and have their eyes focused on the 2022 World Cup."

Furthermore, Maguire has identified another group of 63 'notable Kiwi players', allowing him to cast his net even wider.

Those names include Warriors centre Rocco Berry, Newcastle Knights centre Hymel Hunt and wing Starford Toa, Penrith Panthers forward Spencer Leniu and South Sydney Rabbitohs wing Jaxson Paulo.

"With the football that our younger players have played, we have created a list of players that, with a little more experience, could be the future of this team," says Maguire.

"I am sure we will unearth some new Kiwi talent in the next 12 months and we may even uncover more current names not listed. Nevertheless, this depth is encouraging.

"This year, we have watched many New Zealand players have their best seasons yet. Now, with that experience, coupled with the new generation of talent coming through, it is an exciting time to be a Kiwi."

New Zealand Rugby League World Cup wider squad: Nelson Asofa-Solomona, Jesse Bromwich, Kenny Bromwich, Jahrome Hughes, Brandon Smith, Reimis Smith (Melbourne Storm), Corey Harawira-Naera, Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad, Bailey Simonsson, Jordan Rapana, Joseph Tapine (Canberra Raiders), Braden Hamlin-Uele, Ronaldo Mulitalo, Briton Nikora, Shaun Johnson (Cronulla Sharks), Josh Aloiai, Kieran Foran, Joshua Schuster, Morgan Harper (Manly Sea Eagles), Isaac Liu, Joseph Manu, Jared Waerea-Hargreaves (Sydney Roosters), Dylan Brown, Marata Niukore, Isaiah Papalii (Parramatta Eels), Tohu Harris, Chanel Harris-Tavita, Peta Hiku, Kodi Nikorima, Jazz Tevaga, Dallin Watene-Zelezniak (Warriors), Jamayne Isaako, Jordan Riki (Brisbane Broncos), Kevin Proctor, Erin Clark (Gold Coast Titans), James Fisher-Harris (Penrith Panthers), Jeremy Marshall-King (Canterbury Bulldogs), Ken Maumalo (West Tigers)