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Should Kiwis actually be favourites?




New Zealand are listed as second favourites for the tournament, and it’s easy to see why. They have gun players in every position and a fair bit of depth to go with it.

All things going to plan, they’re set for a semi-final showdown with Australia at Elland Road in Leeds that should be a cracker.

Their spine of Joey Manu, Jahrome Hughes, Dylan Brown and Brandon Smith is elite while their forward rotation begins with James Fisher-Harris and Joseph Tapine and then they swap in Nelson Asofa-Solomona and Moses Leota. Big, big boys.

Their pack also includes multiple NRL premiership winners in Jesse and Kenny Bromwich as well as one of the best strike forwards in the world, Isaiah Papali’i.

Michael Maguire must laugh that he went from dealing with the shallow pool of the Wests Tigers to the Marianas Trench of talent.

Certainties

So this bit is really easy. The Kiwis won handily over Tonga in June and have suffered no injuries to major players since. The predicted 17 below is literally the same as the one that started in Auckland.

There’s all those names above, plus backs Jordan Rapana, Peta Hiku, Ronaldo Mulitalo and Kieran Foran. Marata Niukore played in the centres against Tonga and Briton Nikora came off the bench, so they’ll travel for sure.

AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND - JUNE 22: Jahrome Hughes of the Kiwis scores a try during the Oceania league test between the Kiwis and Mate Ma'a Tonga at Mt Smart Stadium on June 22, 2019 in Auckland, New Zealand. (Photo by Fiona Goodall/Getty Images)

(Photo by Fiona Goodall/Getty Images)

Probables 

Unable to make the 17 but likely to make the squad are Scott Sorensen, Griffin Neame and Jordan Riki as forward options, with Dallin Watene-Zelezniak likely to travel too. Jeremy Marshall-King has been excellent late in the year for the Bulldogs and will go as dummy-half depth.

Te Maire Martin, if fit, will be taken as a fullback option and with Ken Maumolo done for the year, a space for an outside back has opened up. That might well be Matt Timoko.

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - MAY 08: Dallin Watene-Zelezniak of the Warriors looks dejected after a Sharks try during the round nine NRL match between the Cronulla Sharks and the New Zealand Warriors at PointsBet Stadium, on May 08, 2022, in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

(Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

Possibles

There’s a few outside options that might be considered. Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad might be out of favour at Canberra, but with a move to the Warriors on the horizon, he’ll be in the conversation for fullback depth. Morgan Harper, Corey Harawira-Naera and Bailey Simonsson are outside chances.

It’s not impossible that Tohu Harris gets a call if Maguire wants experience. If they want to really roll back the years, Shaun Johnson is also fit and available. Reece Walsh and Kalyn Ponga are eligible but you sense their sights might be set on Queensland and Australia. Playing for the Kiwis would rule them out permanently.

Predicted Kiwis squad

1 Joey Manu
2 Ronaldo Mulitalo
3 Marata Niukore
4 Peta Hiku
5 Jordan Rapana
6 Dylan Brown
7 Jahrome Hughes
8 Jesse Bromwich
9 Brandon Smith
10 James Fisher-Harris
11 Isaiah Papali’i
12 Kenny Bromwich
13 Joseph Tapine
14 Kieran Foran
15 Moses Leota
16 Nelson Asofa-Solomona
17 Briton Nikora
18 Scott Sorensen
19 Griffin Neame
20 Jordan Riki
21 Jeremy Marshall-King
22 Matt Timoko
23 Dallin Watene-Zelezniak
24 Te Maire Martin





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