Halves the key to Kiwi success: Tamati - Sports News - Fanatics - the world's biggest events

Halves the key to Kiwi success: Tamati

07/10/2008 08:38:13 PM Comments (0)

New Zealand selectors believe an unprecedented number of playmaking options could be the catalyst for the Kiwis achieving the ultimate glory in the upcoming Rugby League World Cup.

The Kiwis announced a 24-man squad on Tuesday missing a few big names synonymous with New Zealand Test sides in recent years - Roy Asotasi and Frank Pritchard struck down by injury and rugby union defector Sonny Bill Williams no longer an option.

But while the back-up depth in the forwards means the talented trio won't be missed too much, it's the availability of specialists at fullback, the halves and hooker that has convenor of selectors Howie Tamati excited.

"We've got them pretty well covered and we've probably never been in a better position in New Zealand rugby league," Tamati said.

"We're now in the position where we don't have to play players out of position.

"There are players who have specialist skills and/or have the ability to play well in a number of positions."

Wigan's Thomas Leuluai has been earmarked as the starting halfback, while Wests Tigers' mercurial Benji Marshall is back from injury to fill the five-eighth berth.

Marshall's clubmate, Dene Halatau, and South Sydney's Issac Luke are the leading options at hooker.

However, fullback will be a wait-and-see scenario, with incumbent Brent Webb being included pending a medical clearance after he missed Leeds' Super League grand final victory over St Helens last weekend due to a back injury.

The Kiwis have some back up at the back though with Sydney Rooster Sam Perrett and Parramatta's Krisnan Inu both in the squad.

"We'll just have to wait and see," Tamati said of Webb.

"Obviously a back injury that takes you out of a grand final gives you a lot of concern. We're waiting on confirmation from the medical people about his ability to play."

There is also a question mark over centre Steve Matai, who was one of stars of Manly's 40-0 drubbing of Melbourne in the NRL grand final last Sunday.

Matai has been battling a shoulder complaint that has got progressively worse over the season and is due to see a specialist on Thursday.

Tamati described the return of Parramatta prop Nathan Cayless to the captaincy in place of the injured Asotasi as a logical decision, given his experience and his background as club skipper.

Cayless has led his country twice before, in 2001 and 2004.

Asotasi, Pritchard and Williams are three of five players not backing up from the Kiwis' centenary Test defeat to Australia in May, with Jason Nightingale and Ben Roberts omitted.

The squad contains one uncapped player in Melbourne second rower Sika Manu, one of four Storm players included in a squad who will assemble in Auckland next Monday to prepare for a pre-World Cup Test against Tonga at Mt Smart Stadium on October 18.

The Warriors, on the back of an NRL campaign that ended one game short of a grand final appearance, have the largest number of representatives with six, including hooker Nathan Fien.

Now qualified by residency, Fien returns to the international arena two years after being ruled ineligible to play for the Kiwis.

A total of 16 players from the Kiwis squad will also be turning out for the All Golds against the New Zealand Maori in New Plymouth on Sunday.

Squad: Nathan Cayless (capt), Adam Blair, Greg Eastwood, David Fa'alogo, Nathan Fien, Dene Halatau, Lance Hohaia, Krisnan Inu, David Kidwell, Thomas Leuluai, Jeff Lima, Issac Luke, Simon Mannering, Sika Manu, Benji Marshall, Steve Matai, Sam Perrett, Sam Rapira, Jerome Ropati, Setaimata Sa, Jeremy Smith, Iosia Soliola, Manu Vatuvei, Brent Webb.

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