With the World Cup taking place at the end of the year, we have been predicting what the squads will look like once the tournament starts in October.
After a disappointing outing in the 2017 World Cup, New Zealand will be aiming for a much better performance in 2021 under head coach Michael Maguire.
Below is what I am expecting the Kiwis to look like in their opening game of the tournament.
1. Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad
With Roger Tuivasa-Sheck’s decision to leave Rugby League at the end of the year, a spot at full back has opened up for the Kiwis. The most likely option will be for Canberra star Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad to take on the role. Nicoll-Klokstad has previously played out of position for New Zealand, but will thrive in his natural position at full-back.
2. Ken Maumolo
Taking up the first wing position, I have Ken Maumolo. The former Dally M Winger of the Year has notched up five tries in nine appearance for the Kiwis and will look to add to his tally in the World Cup.
3. Jordan Rapana
In the first centre spot, I have Canberra’s Jordan Rapana. However, I believe that there could be competition for the centre spot should Esan Marsters find form for the Cowboys in 2021. I believe that both Rapana and Marsters will be making their case for the starting position throughout the 2021 season.
4. Joseph Manu
In the other centre position, I have Joseph Manu. The Roosters star made his debut for the Kiwis back in 2018 and has since become one of the best centres in the game. I expect him to be one of the first names on the team sheet for Michael Maguire.
5. Dallin Watene-Zelezniak
On the other wing, I have gone with Bulldogs winger Dallin Watene-Zelezniak. Watene-Zelezniak has made 12 appearances for the Kiwis and I think he will do enough in 2021 to retain his spot. However, I believe there could be some competition for his position.
6. Shaun Johnson
No surprise at 6, I have Sharks star Shaun Johnson. Johnson will have fond memories of the 2013 World Cup after he broke English hearts in the final seconds of the semi-final with a try.
7. Jahrome Hughes
At scrum-half, I have Melbourne star Jahrome Hughes. Hughes has previously lined up on the bench for the Kiwis behind Benji Marshall and Shaun Johnson, but after helping Melbourne to a Premiership in 2020, I expect another big year from the 26-year-old in 2021 that will earn him his spot in the starting side for the Kiwis.
8. Jesse Bromwich
The first of several star front-rowers that make up the huge New Zealand forward pack is Jesse Bromwich. The former Dally M prop of the year had another huge year in 2020 and will hope for a similar season in 2021 as he prepares for what will most likely be his last World Cup.
9. Brandon Smith
An obvious choice for hooker, fan-favourite Brandon Smith will be the Kiwis starting hooker for years to come. Smith’s game will continue to improve throughout the year as he fights with Harry Grant for the starting position at the Storm. I expect Smith to be in career-best form when the World Cup rolls around at the end of the year.
10. Nelson Asofa-Solomona
At the second starting front-row position, I have Nelson Asofa-Solomona. Standing at 6ft 7, Asofa-Solomona is one of the most powerful front-rowers in the NRL and is a huge presence in the New Zealand pack.
11. Kenny Bromwich
At second-row I have Melbourne’s Kenny Bromwich. The younger brother of teammate Jesse, Kenny made his international debut in 2016 and has now notched up 10 appearances for the Kiwis.
12. Tohu Harris
After an excellent 2020 season, Tohu Harris was named Dally M Second-Rower of the Year. If Harris can replicate his fine form in 2021, I believe that he will earn his spot in the starting line-up.
13. Joseph Tapine
After a breakout year in 2020, Joseph Tapine reinvented himself as one of the best locks in the game. One of the toughest ball-runners in the NRL, I expect Tapine to play a big part in New Zealand’s chances at the World Cup.
14. Briton Nikora
In the first interchange spot I have Cronulla’s Briton Nikora. The 23-year-old made his Kiwis debut back in 2019 and if he can produce at a high level in 2021 for the Sharks, I believe he should be able to cement a position in the Kiwis squad.
15. Jared Waerea-Hargreaves
Another huge front-rower in the Kiwis squad, I have Jared Waerea-Hargreaves. The Roosters man is never too far away from the action and plays a big role in the Kiwis forward pack.
16. James Fisher-Harris
Another big presence in the Kiwis forward pack, James Fisher-Harris had a phenomenal season for the Panthers last year. If he can replicate his successes of last season, he will enter the World cup in fine form.
17. Corey Harawira-Naera
Last but not least, I have Canberra second-rower Corey Harawira-Naera. The 25-year-old has made three appearances for the Kiwis and can provide cover across the forward pack.