Tauranga-born Sharks second rower Briton Nikora has been named alongside Shaun Johnson in a 27-man extended New Zealand squad ahead of the inaugural Oceania Cup Test against Mate Ma’a Tonga.
Nikora, who debuted in the NRL in round one this season, has gone on to play 12 of the Sharks 13 games this year.
For Johnson, back in the NRL last night after missing five games with a hamstring strain, if selected in the 17-man squad it would be his 30th Test match for his country.
Johnson would have to beat out veteran halves Benji Marshall and Kieran Foran who were also among the 27 players named in a wider Kiwi squad for the Oceania Cup Test at Mount Smart Stadium in Auckland on Saturday, June 22 (5.40pm kick-off).
Aside from Nikora the only other three players named who are yet to make their Kiwi Test debuts are Wellington-born Storm fullback Jahrome Hughes (24), Roosters middle forward Zane Tetevano (28) and Vodafone Warriors prop Agnatius Paasi (27).
Hughes and Paasi were in the Kiwis’ end-of-season touring squad last year but didn’t appear in a Test while Tetevano, who has played at international level for Cook Islands, was originally selected for the campaign before being ruled out by injury.
“We’re really pleased with the quality and form of the players we’ve been able to select,” said second-year Kiwi head coach Michael Maguire.
“Nearly all of them have come through the Test we had against England in Denver last year and the matches against Australia and England later in the year. As a group we made a lot of progress and now it’s all about building on that.
“This Test against Tonga at Mount Smart is going to be a huge occasion and we can’t wait to be part of it.
“It kicks off what is a tremendous year for the international game with the introduction of the Oceania Cup competition, the Downer Rugby League World Cup Nines and our series against the Great Britain Rugby League Lions.”
In all 22 of the 27 players named in the Kiwis’ wider squad tonight were involved in last year’s campaigns; the exceptions are Marshall, Foran, Tetevano, Nikora and Vodafone Warriors captain and 2018 Dally M Medal winner Roger Tuivasa-Sheck.
NRL competition leader Melbourne provides five players in the Bromwich brothers Jesse and Kenny, front rower Nelson Asofa-Solomona, hooker Brandon Smith and Hughes while there are seven Vodafone Warriors in fullback Tuivasa-Sheck, wing Ken Maumalo, halfback Kodi Nikorima, prop Leeson Ah Mau, hooker Issac Luke, second rower Isaiah Papali’i and Paasi.
The final 19-man Test squad will be announced after the NRL’s 14th round finishes on Sunday evening with the clash between the Sydney Roosters and the Canterbury Bankstown Bulldogs.
The Kiwis v Tonga Test is the second leg of a doubleheader which kicks off with the Kiwi Ferns facing Fetu Samoa at 3.10pm.
NEW ZEALAND KIWIS | WIDER SQUAD
LEESON AH MAU (Vodafone Warriors)
NELSON ASOFA-SOLOMONA (Melbourne Storm)
JESSE BROMWICH (Melbourne Storm)
KENNEATH BROMWICH (Melbourne Storm)
JAMES FISHER-HARRIS (Penrith Panthers)
KIERAN FORAN (Canterbury Bankstown Bulldogs)
JAHROME HUGHES (Melbourne Storm)
JAMAYNE ISAAKO (Brisbane Broncos)
SHAUN JOHNSON (Cronulla Sutherland Sharks)
ISAAC LIU (Sydney Roosters)
ISSAC LUKE (Vodafone Warriors)
JOSEPH MANU (Sydney Roosters)
BENJI MARSHALL (Wests Tigers)
ESAN MARSTERS (Wests Tigers)
KEN MAUMALO (Vodafone Warriors)
BRITON NIKORA (Cronulla Sutherland Sharks)
KODI NIKORIMA (Vodafone Warriors)
AGNATIUS PAASI (Vodafone Warriors)
ISAIAH PAPALI’I (Vodafone Warriors)
JORDAN RAPANA (Canberra Raiders)
BRANDON SMITH (Melbourne Storm)
JOSEPH TAPINE (Canberra Raiders)
MARTIN TAUPAU (Manly Warringah Sea Eagles)
ZANE TETEVANO (Sydney Roosters)
ROGER TUIVASA-SHECK (Vodafone Warriors)
JARED WAEREA-HARGREAVES (Sydney Roosters)
DALLIN WATENE-ZELEZNIAK (Canterbury Bankstown Bulldogs)
* Article adapted from a NZRL.co.nz website release