Kiwis coach Stephen Kearney hasn’t been afraid to meddle with his triumphant Four Nations squad, recalling four players and removing 10 for this week’s Test against Australia in Brisbane.
Fullback Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, uncapped wing Dallin Watene-Zelezniak and props Sam Moa and Ben Matulino are in the 18-strong squad for the Test on Friday, having not been involved late last year.
Injury has ruled out two members of the Four Nations squad – powerhouse North Queensland Cowboys forward Jason Taumalolo and classy Penrith centre Dean Whare.
Eight other players from that squad have been dropped. They are Jason Nightingale, Josh Hoffman, Sosaia Feki, Gerard Beale, Suaia Matagi, Siliva Havili, Adam Blair and Bodene Thompson.
Moa and Watene-Zelezniak were both initially named in the Four Nations squad but were forced out for personal reasons and injury respectively.
Tuivasa-Sheck’s sizzling form since switching to fullback at the Roosters means he is likely to start there, with Peta Hiku potentially shifting into the centres to take Whare’s berth.
Likewise, Matulino has been strong for the Warriors.
Kearney warned this week he would be picking more on form than reputation and none of his selections represent a major surprise.
As signposted, there was no room for former captain and veteran half Benji Marshall despite his fine form with St George Illawarra.
Manly standoff Kieran Foran has overcome a hamstring injury while Warriors utility Thomas Leuluai provides the play-making cover.
“All of these players have been in good form so far this season and really put their hands up for inclusion,” Kearney said.
“It’s a sign that we are developing some great young talent and good depth in certain positions.”
Whare has nursed a hamstring strain for several weeks and didn’t play in Penrith’s win over the Sharks on Sunday.
Taumalolo left the field early in North Queensland’s win over Newcastle on Saturday with a damaged medial ligament and is likely to be sidelined for at least a month.
“It’s disappointing to lose those lads, but … we believe this team is capable of a job for us this week and its also an opportunity to take another step towards our ultimate goal, the 2017 World Cup,” Kearney said.
While the Kiwis dominated the Four Nations, winning the trans-Tasman final 22-18 in Wellington, their record in the Anzac Test is dreadful.
They have lost the past 13 encounters dating back to the lone win in 1998.
The Kangaroos were 30-18 winners last year in Sydney.
New Zealand squad: Simon Mannering (capt), Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, Manu Vatuvei, Dallin Watene-Zelezniak, Peta Hiku, Shaun Kenny-Dowall, Kieran Foran, Shaun Johnson, Jesse Bromwich, Sam Moa, Martin Taupau, Ben Matulino, Issac Luke, Thomas Leuluai, Kevin Proctor, Lewis Brown, Greg Eastwood, Tohu Harris.