NZ name team for Four Nations

Two debutants and a recall after a three-year absence are the features of the 23-man New Zealand squad named today for the end-of-season Four Nations and a one-off Test against Samoa.

After just two seasons in the NRL, Warriors back rower Lewis Brown (24) and Brisbane Broncos winger Antonio Winterstein (22) have been included along with Sydney Roosters centre Shaun Kenny -Dowall (22) who hasn’t played for the Kiwis since his only Test appearance against France in 2007.

Returning to the Kiwis for the first time since the World Cup triumph over Australia in 2008 is St George Illawarra’s NRL premiership-winning loose forward Jeremy Smith.

Two other World Cup heroes rejoining the Kiwis after last playing in the 2009 Anzac Test are Warriors duo Simon Mannering and Manu Vatuvei.

Of the remaining 17 players chosen, 16 were involved in last year’s Four Nations in England and France while Melbourne forward Sika Manu played in this year’s Anzac Test in Melbourne. The team was announced today by New Zealand Rugby League chairman Scott Carter with Kiwi coach and selector Stephen Kearney joining him.

Kearney said the team had been difficult to select.

“We’re in a position with our depth developing where a number of very good players have missed out,” he said.

“That’s disappointing for them but really encouraging for us that we now have strong competition for spots.”

The Kiwi selectors were also able to approach their task with fewer players than usual ruled out of contention. Incumbent prop Sam Rapira was unavailable while Manly’s Kieran Foran (shoulder) and Steve Matai (suspended) weren’t considered. Kearney confirmed today that centre Jerome Ropati had been ruled out with a shoulder injury which forced him to withdraw from the Warriors’ week one NRL finals clash against the Gold Coast Titans on September 10.

The majority of the players selected were involved in finals football in either the NRL competition or the English Super League with only six from clubs that failed to continue beyond the regular season.

Four players have tasted premiership success in the last few days – Smith, winger Jason Nightingale and utility Nathan Fien were all in the Dragons’ NRL title-winning side against the Sydney Roosters on Sunday while halfback Thomas Leuluai helped the Wigan Warriors to the Super League title when they beat St Helens 22-10 at Old Trafford.

Leuluai is one of two Super League players back in the Kiwis along with Leeds back rower Greg Eastwood, who is set to return to the NRL next season. Both players were involved in last year’s Four Nations but weren’t used in the Anzac Test in Melbourne.

The newcomers Brown and Winterstein have earned their call-ups after impressing in their first two seasons in the NRL. Brown, who turned 24 last Sunday, has now clocked up 38 appearances, playing in all but two of the Warriors’ 25 games this year; he’s one of five Warriors players selected, the most for one club. Auckland-born Winterstein has missed few games for the Broncos since making his debut in the opening round of the 2009 season. He has scored 19 tries in 47 games.

The Kiwis assemble in Auckland this Saturday, initially based at the Millennium Institute on the North Shore.

They begin their program with their historic first-ever Test against Samoa at Mount Smart Stadium in Auckland on October 16, the second leg of a doubleheader preceded by England taking on the New Zealand Maori.

The Kiwis’ Four Nations encounters are against England at Westpac Stadium in Wellington (October 23), Papua New Guinea at the International Stadium in Rotorua (October 30) and Australia at Eden Park in Auckland (November 6). The match against the Kangaroos is the second half of a doubleheader kicking off with England facing Papua New Guinea. The Four Nations final is scheduled for Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane on November 13.

Tickets for the Four Nations games in New Zealand and Australia are on sale now (go to www.nzrl.co.nz for more information). Tickets for the Test against Samoa are also on sale.

2010 Kiwis squad: Adam Blair, Sika Manu (Melbourne Storm); Lewis Brown, Lance Hohaia, Simon Mannering, Ben Matulino, Manu Vatuvei (Vodafone Warriors); Greg Eastwood (Leeds Rhinos); Nathan Fien, Jason Nightingale, Jeremy Smith (St George Illawarra Dragons); Bronson Harrison (Canberra Raiders); Shaun Kenny-Dowall, Frank-Paul Nuuausala, Sam Perrett, Jared Waerea-Hargreaves (Sydney Roosters); Thomas Leuluai (Wigan Warriors); Issac Luke (South Sydney Rabbitohs); Benji Marshall – Captain (Wests Tigers); Fuifui Moimoi (Parramatta Eels); Frank Pritchard (Penrith Panthers); Junior Sa’u (Newcastle Knights); Antonio Winterstein (Brisbane Broncos).