Parramatta playmaker Dylan Brown has usurped Shaun Johnson in the Kiwis squad for the upcoming Test against Mate Ma’a Tonga in Auckland.
New Zealand coach Michael Maguire has named a 25-man wider squad to travel home to Aotearoa to face their Pacific rivals at Mt Smart Stadium on June 25 and there was no place for Johnston or Kodi Nikorima among the playmakers.
Brown is set to partner Melbourne Storm halfback Jahrome Hughes at the scrum base, with Manly veteran Kieran Foran also in the squad.
Eight of the squad are potential Kiwi debutants, including Ellerslie Eagles junior Ronaldo Mulitalo, who leads the NRL with 20 linebreaks for the Sharks this season, and Eels playmaker Dylan Brown.
Brown has six tries, seven try assists, five line break assists, nine line breaks and 46 tackle breaks in 13 games this season.
Fantastic Brown stars for Eels
Other new faces are Panthers duo Moses Leota and Scott Sorensen, who were both instrumental in Penrith’s dominance over the last three seasons.
Warriors-bound Parramatta back rower Marata Niukore is another potential debutant, along with Gold Coast hooker Erin Clark.
Former Junior Kiwi teammates Griffin Neame (Cowboys) and Jordan Riki (Broncos) enter the Kiwis’ frame and Broncos fullback Te Maire Martin receives a recall after his impressive return to the NRL this season.
Tapine's powerful performance against the Broncos recognised
The last of Martin’s four internationals was Kiwi head coach Michael Maguire’s first Test in charge against England in Denver four years ago.
Penrith prop James Fisher-Harris and Parramatta forward Isaiah Papali’i, who were both members of the 2021 Dally M Team of the Year members have cemented their spots in the squad. Wests Tigers-bound in 2022, Papali’i has averaged 155 metres a game to add to his five tries while Fisher-Harris consistently shows why he’s one of the best front-rowers in the game.
Versatile Sydney Roosters star Joey Manu is named along with six Melbourne Storm player, Jahrome Hughes, Brandon Smith, Nelson Asofa-Solomona and the Bromwich brothers, Jesse and Kenny.
“I know how much the black and white jersey means to these players,” said Maguire.
“To finally return home after two years and play for your country in front of fans and whānau, this Test will be special.
“This squad has an exciting mix of fresh talent and experienced Kiwis having some of their best seasons.
We have a strong spine of leaders throughout the group that play a crucial role in the team, especially with these new boys coming through.Kiwis coach Michael Maguire
“Some difficult decisions have had to be made, but it’s a positive sign of our depth in certain positions.
"With the quality of Kiwi talent on display throughout the NRL, we are in a strong place as we look to build a solid foundation ahead of the Rugby League World Cup come October.”
New Zealand Kiwis
Nelson Asofa-Solomona (Storm)
Jesse Bromwich (Storm)
Kenneath Bromwich (Storm)
Dylan Brown (Eels)
Erin Clark (Titans)
James Fisher-Harris (Panthers)
Kieran Foran (Sea Eagles)
Peta Hiku (Cowboys)
Jahrome Hughes (Storm)
Moses Leota (Panthers)
Isaac Liu (Titans)
Joseph Manu (Roosters)
Te Maire Martin (Broncos)
Ken Maumalo (Wests Tigers)
Ronaldo Mulitalo (Sharks)
Griffin Neame (Cowboys)
Briton Nikora (Sharks)
Marata Niukore (Eels)
Isaiah Papali’i (Eels)
Jordan Rapana (Raiders)
Jordan Riki (Broncos)
Brandon Smith (Storm)
Scott Sorensen (Panthers)
Joseph Tapine (Raiders)
Dallin Watene-Zelezniak (Warriors)
Match: New Zealand v Mate Ma'a Tonga
Round 1 -
Mate Ma'a Tonga
Venue: Mt Smart Stadium, Auckland
International rugby league returns to New Zealand with the Kiwi Ferns facing Tonga women and the Kiwis taking on Tonga in a double-header at Mt Smart Stadium on June 25. Get your tickets here.