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Thomas Leuluai in the new Kiwis jersey.

Should Manu Ma'u take the field for Tonga when they meet the Kiwis next month, he will be going to battle against a group of men wearing jerseys which have part of him incorporated into them.

The new Kiwis World Cup jerseys unveiled this week feature hand-drawn elements taken from the tattoos of several current players, including Ma'u, who was among a group of stars who elected to represent Tonga rather than the New Zealand at the tournament. 

It's a quirk sure to prove controversial for some but according to the designer of the jersey, Kiwis cultural advisor Ora Kihi, there was no thought of changing the strip following Ma'u's deflection. 

"He's still a part of this Kiwis legacy... he's a part of what happened and he will always be a part of what happened," Kihi said.

"Even though we [will] go and play against him, we say 'brother, you are still a part of this team, we respect you for that'.

"There's players who are still there now, there's players who have moved on to other countries, but they will still be a part of this jersey."

The Kiwis take on Tonga in their final pool game on November 11 at Waikato Stadium.

The shirt also features predominant designs from the tattoos of overlooked hooker Issac Luke, along with prop Jared Waerea-Hargreaves.

Kihi said the unique concept, which he been in the working for three years, is thought to be the first of its kind for an international sporting team and follows on from a similar idea which was incorporated into the jerseys New Zealand wore in their 2014 Four Nations clash against Samoa. 

"I had been taking pictures of the Kiwi players for about three years and just finding the right opportunity of when to bring it together," Kihi said. 

"[I've been] going to some individual players over that time and asking them would they like to be a part of this; asking them what is the most important thing within their tattoos that they would like to be added or incorporated into this design.

"So a lot of the things that you see on the jersey are what the players really wanted, what that particular part on their body was about and the reason they play football.

"For us it's a visual genealogy tree of the players that have played in the jersey."

In a further effort to embrace their culture, the Kiwis will depart for a four-day camp at Turangawaewae Marae in the Waikato on Tuesday before heading back to Auckland to prepare for their opening World Cup match against Samoa on October 28.

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National Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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