Kiwi rookies to be thrown in deep end
Twelve months ago they had a total of three NRL games between them yet Kiwi rookies Kodi Nikorima and Tuimoala Lolohea could be thrust into Test football as starting halves for New Zealand's upcoming tour of England.
Coach Stephen Kearney announced his 23-man squad in Auckland on Thursday and the absence of some big names due to injury has opened up the opportunity not only to name co-captains in Adam Blair and Issac Luke but to blood six debutants into the Kiwi set-up.
Nikorima, Lolohea, Jordan Kahu, Curtis Rona and Roosters forwards Isaac Liu and Sio Siua Taukeiaho are all in line to represent their country for the first time with the first Test to be played at Hull on November 1.
The Kiwi halves pairing from the mid-year Anzac Test of Kieran Foran and Shaun Johnson are both missing due to injury while Dragons half and former New Zealand captain Benji Marshall was overlooked for selection.
That leaves just Nikorima and Lolohea as squad members with any significant experience playing in the halves but Kearney has faith in his young charges, particularly Lolohea.
"With the loss of both Kieran and Shaun it certainly pushes 'Tui' into a position where there's every chance he'll be making his Test debut for the Kiwis which I know he'll handle fairly easily in the sense that he doesn't lack confidence," Kearney told Warriors TV.
"With the group that he'll have around him he'll certainly be well supported and do a wonderful job and I'm really looking forward to having him on board.
"I've always thought that he could play in that position. It's certainly going to help him having some very experienced guys around him and will certainly come into calculations in terms of selecting him."
In what was ultimately a disappointing season for the Warriors, Lolohea was one of the shining lights, the 20-year-old asked to fill the shoes of first Sam Tomkins at fullback and then Johnson's No.7 jersey at the end of the season as well as spending time in the centres and on the wing.
New Zealand's most experienced current player, Simon Mannering, was ruled out with injury earlier in the week but Kearney is again excited about what his withdrawal means for Luke and Blair.
"Simon obviously had a tough finish to the year and wasn't 100 per cent and I don't think his condition has improved greatly over the course of the last month," Kearney said. "That was an easy decision and I think it's going to do him the world of good.
"In saying that, Issac gets an opportunity along with Adam Blair to lead the squad forward and that's something that Issac is very, very honoured and proud that he's got that opportunity and one that he's looking forward to."
Acclaimed rugby league writer Steve Mascord will be covering the New Zealand tour of England for NRL.com.