Auva'a snub surprises ex-Kiwis skipper
Injuries and player burnout meant there were some glaring omissions from the 24-man Kiwis squad named on Tuesday, but the absence of premiership-winning South Sydney centre Kirisome Auva'a caused the biggest stir among New Zealand fans.
Following Sunday's 30-6 grand final victory over the Bulldogs 22-year-old Auva'a told NRL.com he would be declaring his allegiance to New Zealand, turning down the opportunity to represent his nation of birth Samoa.
Given New Zealand's lack of depth in the centre position, combined with the strong form Auva'a had displayed in 2014, it was widely anticipated that Kiwis coach Stephen Kearney would include him in the upcoming Four Nations campaign.
In his first season of NRL football Auva'a proved a revelation as the Rabbitohs ended their 43-year premiership drought, building a strong combination with fellow rookie Alex Johnston to register five try assists and go over for eight tries himself in 18 regular season games.
According to former Kiwis captain Hugh McGahan, who played 32 Tests between 1982 and 1990, Auva'a has every right to feel hard done by.
"I thought that he was one that could be considered given centre hasn't been the strong point for New Zealand over the last few years," McGahan said.
"[He was] very unlucky because I think he has had a stellar year with Souths both defensively and on attack, scoring a try in the grand final and he set up a couple as well."
The numbers support that theory too.
Regular-season statistics suggest that Auva'a performed as well as – and in some cases better than - the three men most likely to vie for the two starting centre spots in the Kiwis – Dean Whare, Shaun Kenny-Dowall and Gerard Beale.
Averaging 1.8 missed tackles per match in 2014, Auva'a's error-rate on defence was significantly less than Whare's 3.3 and on par with Beale and Kenny-Dowall's 1.8 and 1.5 respectively.
While on the attacking side of the ball Auva'a's 105 average run metres were bettered only by Kenny-Dowall's 116.
Add the fact that Auva'a played right through to last Sunday's grand final and McGahan says you have a player who is exactly what the Kiwis need if they hope to beat the world-champion Kangaroos.
"Defensively he is what we really require to combat the Australians," McGahan said.
"He is uncompromising, he is tough, he is confrontational. He shows some strength on defence and is a good hard runner and good finisher.
"It is an area that is probably not our strength at the moment and someone like 'Somi', who even though he is young and it's been his first full year of first grade, I think he has shown more than enough to say that he could match it."
Meanwhile Warriors front-rower Suaia Matagi is faced with a difficult decision after being named in the final squads for both New Zealand and Samoa.
Matagi was born and raised in Auckland but has strong links to Samoa through his parents who were both born there, and the 26-year-old has represented the island nation on five occasions including at last year's World Cup.