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Benji and Foran recalled to Kiwis team for Tonga Test

Veteran playmaker Benji Marshall is set for a remarkable return to the Test arena after being selected in New Zealand's 19-man squad to face Mate Ma'a Tonga on Saturday, almost seven years on from his last international appearance.

Kiwis coach Michael Maguire all but confirmed Marshall will partner Shaun Johnson in the halves, with the pair to link together in the black jersey for the first and only other time since Johnson made his Test debut in the 2012 Anzac Test.

The 34-year-old Wests Tigers five-eighth joins Johnson and Kieran Foran as the specialist halves in the squad, with Kodi Nikorima ruled out after picking up a groin strain in the Warriors' 24-20 Telstra Premiership win over the Titans on Friday.  

"I have got a few decisions I can make there, but with Shaun and Benj together, I am looking forward to seeing those boys perform throughout the week," Maguire said.

"About a week ago I spoke to [Benji] about the fact that he's a potential. In the last couple of days I spoke to him about the fact that he's going to be playing.

"Benji's changed his game a little bit over the last 12 months I guess. He's been really able to learn how to direct a game and follow plans.

"He's at a higher level now, so I think Shaun will be able to play off the back of that."

Having worked closely with Marshall since taking over as head coach of the Tigers late last year, Maguire said the 2010 Golden Boot winner had impressed with his leadership and on-field performances.  

"I've seen a lot of great games from Benj and his performances in and around the leadership," Maguire said.

"It was unfortunate with Kodi Nikorima pulling out there, but it opens up an opportunity and I think Benji really fits that role.

"He was quite blown away [when I told him he was selected] actually … he was ecstatic and couldn’t believe it.

"He always has a bit joke that he'd love to be able to get back in here and perform at the Kiwi level. One thing I want to show by what we are doing is that at any time you can wear that Kiwi jersey, if you are playing and performing at the highest level."

Dallin Watene-Zelezniak will remain New Zealand's captain, with Maguire not hesitating to select the versatile back despite him having played just one Telstra Premiership game since round 10, following his split from the Penrith Panthers.

In his first game for his new club the Bulldogs, he was forced from the field with a head knock, but Maguire said there was no question he would be fit to take the field at Mt Smart Stadium.

Wests Tigers five-eighth Benji Marshall.
Wests Tigers five-eighth Benji Marshall. ©Scott Davis/NRL Photos

"He's fine, I've just been talking to his [club] staff there and he has come up well. They'll go through the protocol but he will be fine," Maguire said. 

"He's faced a bit of adversity over the last month, but I think now that he's settled and back playing footy again it was great to see him running around.

"I know that he is going to come in here and is going to be performing at his best."

Three players are a chance to make their New Zealand debut in the match, with NRL rookie Briton Nikora selected alongside Zane Tetevano and Jahrome Hughes.

After being a non-playing reserve on the Kiwis' end-of-season tour of the UK last year, Maguire said Hughes had improved even further for the Storm.

With his ability to play a number of positions in the backs, Hughes is the frontrunner to serve as New Zealand's interchange utility against Tonga.

"Jahrome traveled away with us and wasn’t able to get a game over there, [but] one thing I did speak to him about was his performances when he came back," Maguire said.

"He's shown that [improvement] and has earned that.

"I watched Jahrome two weeks ago against the Warriors and it was incredible how he played, and he's been doing that week in and week out."

New Zealand squad

(19-man team in alphabetical order)

Leeson Ah Mau (Warriors)
Nelson Asofa-Solomona (Storm)
Jesse Bromwich (Storm)
Kenneath Bromwich (Storm)
James Fisher-Harris (Panthers)
Kieran Foran (Bulldogs)
Jahrome Hughes (Storm)
Shaun Johnson (Sharks)
Isaac Liu (Roosters)
Joseph Manu (Roosters)
Benji Marshall (Wests Tigers)
Esan Marsters (Wests Tigers)
Ken Maumalo (Warriors)
Briton Nikora (Sharks)
Brandon Smith (Storm)
Zane Tetevano (Roosters)
Roger Tuivasa-Sheck (Warriors)
Jared Waerea-Hargreaves (Roosters)
Dallin Watene-Zelezniak - captain (Bulldogs)

Tonga squad

(Preliminary line-up in alphabetical order)

John Asiata (North Queensland Cowboys)
Manase Fainu (Manly Sea Eagles)
Andrew Fifita (Cronulla Sharks)
Addin Fonua-Blake (Manly Sea Eagles)
Moeaki Fotuaika (Gold Coast Titans)
David Fusi'tua (New Zealand Warriors)
Siliva Havili (Canberra Raiders)
Will Hopoate (Canterbury Bulldogs)
Michael Jennings (Parramatta Eels)
Robert Jennings (Wests Tigers)
Solomone Kata (New Zealand Warriors)
Sione Katoa (Penrith Panthers)
Tuimoala Lolohea (Leeds Rhinos)
Manu Ma'u (Parramatta Eels)
Tevita Pangai jnr (Brisbane Broncos)
Kotoni Staggs (Brisbane Broncos)
Tevita Tatola (South Sydney Rabbitohs)
Siosiua Taukeiaho (Sydney Roosters)
Jason Taumalolo (North Queensland Cowboys)
Peni Terepo (Parramatta Eels)
Daniel Tupou (Sydney Roosters)
Sitili Tupouniua (Sydney Roosters)


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