Panthers forward James Fisher-Harris.

New blood and no captain: Maguire's Kiwi innovations

New Zealand coach Michael Maguire will use the Denver Test against England to not only blood new talent but also find players to lead the Kiwis to the next World Cup and into the future.

Maguire, who is expected to hand Test debuts to the likes of Wests Tigers centre Esan Masters and Penrith forwards Corey Harawira-Naera and James Fisher-Harris, has revealed the innovative move to have no official captain.

Prop Adam Blair, who captained the Kiwis at last year’s World Cup, will represent the team at official functions and the pre-Test coin toss but Maguire wants every player to assume leadership responsibility.

With former New Zealand skipper Simon Mannering announcing his retirement from Test football, along with Wests Tigers co-captain Russell Packer and his frontrow partner Ben Matulino, the Kiwis are light on for experience.

Blair’s predecessor as New Zealand captain, Jesse Bromwich, has been ruled out for up to six weeks with a hamstring injury, while Benj Marshall faces a similar stint on the sidelines after tearing a calf muscle.

There are also doubts over the availability of Warriors captain Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, who was named to make his comeback from an ankle injury against North Queensland on Friday night.

Kiwi forward Adam Blair.
Kiwi forward Adam Blair. ©Robb Cox/NRL Photos

“There is going to be a lot of opportunities for young players and I am actually looking forward to the fact that I am going to be able to blood a lot of young kids,” Maguire said.

“They are going to be the future if they choose to grab this opportunity with both hands. Simon Mannering retired today and he has played 45 Tests so these young players could be there for a long time.”

The Test will be Maguire’s first in charge of New Zealand and he is looking at the historic match at the home of the Denver Broncos as the first step towards the 2021 World Cup.

The Kiwis play Australia in Auckland on October 14 before a three-Test series against England and Maguire said he wanted to see the players which players put their hands up in Denver for selection at the end of season.

“I am not actually going to have a captain,” Maguire said. “I have spoken to Blairy about that, he is going to represent the team running out but we want to grow the leadership across the team.

“It is an opportunity for every player to stand up and be accountable for each other and what they do on and off the field, enjoying their time away from footy but being the team that maintains what we want to do on the field.

“I feel that leadership across the team is the key to success for any team. Everyone can lead in different ways, whether it is through their actions, how they act on and off the field, or what they want to put into the jersey and into the team.

“I am looking forward to seeing who those players are going to be and that is the group that is going to take New Zealand to the heights that they want to reach.”

Maguire said he hoped to use Mannering in an off-field role with the New Zealand team in the future, after his retirement as the fourth most capped Kiwis international behind Ruben Wiki (55 Tests), Gary Freeman (46) and Stacey Jones (46). 

“In his years of being a Kiwi, there is no doubt that Simon has made his country proud,” Maguire said. “There is a reason so many budding rugby league players idolise his abilities on the field and the way he holds himself off the field makes him a true Kiwi role model.

Simon Mannering takes it to the Aussies in 2014.
Simon Mannering takes it to the Aussies in 2014.

“His leadership has developed and mentored a lot of young and up-and-coming players not only at club level, but at international level too. He has also left his own legacy on the new generation of Kiwi players coming through.

“Sometime down the track, I hope to work alongside Simon as his knowledge and expertise as a Kiwi international will be highly beneficial in and around the squad.”

Mannering made his Test debut in 2006 and took over the captaincy from Marshall at the 2013 World Cup. He was a member of the Kiwis squad which was eliminated by Fiji in the quarter-final of last year’s World Cup.

“The idea of taking a Test to the United States is really exciting for the game but I think it’s a good time for younger players to be given every opportunity," Mannering said.
 
“I was honoured to wear the Kiwi jersey every time and it’s been a huge privilege having the chance to play alongside so many outstanding players. It was also a special honour to captain my country.”

Packer was also a member of last year’s World Cup squad and represented New Zealand seven times, while Matulino, who debuted in 2009, played the last of his 23 Tests for the Kiwis in 2015.