Nikorima's organisation the difference
Kiwis coach David Kidwell highlighted Kodi Nikorima's ability to control a game as the reason he will start at five-eighth ahead of Te Maire Martin for Saturday's crunch clash with Tonga.
With both Nikorima and Martin having been given a shot in the No.6 jersey at the Rugby League World Cup, performing strongly in victories over Samoa and Scotland respectively, Kidwell was left with a selection headache when it came to who should partner Shaun Johnson in the halves for the Kiwis' final Pool B match at Waikato Stadium.
But a proven ability to take pressure off Johnson in general play and late in tackle counts gave Nikorima the edge.
"Kodi wants it and he shares that responsibility with Shaun when he needs to take the team in the direction that we want him to in the game plan," Kidwell said.
"We just thought that Kodi can control that side while Shaun looks after the other side… we think he can direct the team along with Shaun and he has that bit of x-factor about him and that confidence.
"When Kodi needs to step in and control the team he is up for that challenge, and I thought he did well against Samoa.
"It definitely wasn't [an easy decision], young Te Maire played a great game on the weekend.
"The great thing is there is a bit of pressure there for spots."
Martin comes off a memorable first start for the Kiwis which saw him score three tries and clock four line breaks in the 74-6 rout of Scotland, while Nikorima was among New Zealand's best performers in week one against Samoa.
The other major team change this week sees the Kiwis partner Penrith Panthers teammates Dallin Watene-Zelezniak and Dean Whare together on the left edge, while Jordan Rapana is named on the right wing in place of Peta Hiku.
Whare made his return from an ankle injury against Scotland, scoring a try, setting one up and running for over 100 metres at centre, and has emerged as the first-choice option following Gerard Beale's tournament-ending injury.
"Dean Whare was impressive on the weekend, he has done well to come back from his ankle injury in the first week," Kidwell said.
"He is all class, Dean. He showed a bit of that on the weekend and I am really looking forward to him coming up against one of the other class centres as well [in Tonga's Michael Jennings]."