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Six contenders to be New Zealand captain at the 2021 World Cup

Even though New Zealand have dominated the 15-man code for many years, in the world of Rugby League they have not had the same impact. Of course, there is no doubting that the Kiwis have still been a successful World Cup side. Their 2008 win against Australia in Australia – beating them by 34-20 – secured their first, and only, World Cup trophy. The following tournament in 2013 saw them make the final but they were torn apart by the Aussies in a 34-2 drumming. Alarmingly, in 2017 they didn’t even make the semi-finals. 

Considering the amount of talent they have spread throughout the Rugby League world in both hemispheres, it can be assumed with confidence that New Zealand are wanting to take back a bit of dignity in 2021. They especially have a point to prove as, after the last World Cup, they are currently ranked the best national side in the world. This is thanks to their performances in internationals since 2017.  

But, unlike Australia where there is a smorgasbord of choice for the captaincy within the NRL, New Zealand only have one team within the league. Therefore, it is up to the coach of the Kiwis to sometimes look over to our shores to see what can be found. Here are six contenders for that role.

Roger Tuivasa-Sheck – Captain at the New Zealand Warriors

An obvious choice would be the current Golden Boot holder and captain at the Warriors, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, or RTS as he is known by the NRL media. He is regularly regarded as one of the best fullbacks in the world, twice winning the Dally M Medal for the position in 2015 and 2018. He also has secured the medal for the position of winger whilst at the Roosters in 2013. The 2021 season marks the fifth year he has been Warriors captain and couple that with his playing record, it’s not a bad resume to have when a World Cup is around the corner. Fans of Super League may have heard about him recently as he announced that from the 2022 season he will switch codes to join Auckland-based Blues in a quest to achieve his dream of playing for the All Blacks. So in his final year in Rugby League, how fitting would it be for him to captain his country for the first time? I think it’s rather likely he will be close to the top of the list for the role.   

Thomas Leuluai – Captain at the Wigan Warriors

Thomas Leuluai is without doubt one of the best overseas signings in Super League history. With Wigan Warriors, he has achieved everything possible in our competition and age never seems to catch up with him. His hard and aggressive playing style has kept him on the front line for years and he still puts out infallible performances. After Sean O’Loughlin’s injury last season keeping him out for a large portion of it, Leuluai became interim captain and the role was a perfect fit for him. If New Zealand are looking for experience coupled with someone that can put in excellent performances, they need not look further than Thomas Leuluai for a solid candidate for the Kiwi captaincy. 

Benji Marshall – South Sydney Rabbitohs

A New Zealander who needs no introduction, Benji Marshall is regarded as one of the best players to ever play the game. Noted for his quick footwork, Marshall has created a reputation for himself to be able to run rings around the opposition giving him the accolade of the Golden Boot in 2010. A legend for the Wests Tigers until his controversial release at the end of last season, Marshall will now play in red and green for ‘The Bunnies’ in 2021. If any one thing was ever certain, it is that Marshall will play for the Kiwis in this year’s World Cup and given that he is their last serving captain, it is sufficed to say he is the favourite to be selected again. But like with Boyd Cordner for Australia, or indeed any international captaincy, nothing can be taken for granted. This is especially the case when there are other younger candidates in line to take up the role. It would be easy to say that Marshall will be skipper again, but there are definite grounds to say that this is not a guarantee.   

Kodi Nikorima – New Zealand Warriors

When Roger Tuivasa-Sheck suffered a season ending injury last year, this man more than made up for the hole that was left. Without doubt the shining star for the Warriors, Kodi Nikorima definitely showed his calibre as a leader with a level headed approach to Rugby League that was exactly what a wayward Warriors side needed. With what the NRL team from New Zealand went through last year, having to relocate to Australia away from their families due to the pandemic, it was a miracle that they even finished the season at all. They showed true sportsmanship in their dedication to the NRL and this should be highly commended by the Rugby League world. This was summed up by one person on the field and it was Nikorima. Without him, the New Zealand Warriors would have fallen apart in the rest of their games. He was the general that gave them direction and if he can do that during the most trying of circumstances in the sport in recent years, then surely he would be a perfect fit for captain of the national side.  

Krisnan Inu- Salford Red Devils

When the Salford Red Devils are mentioned in conversation now there is a difference. A few years ago, they were a team that didn’t really matter – a team that were pretty much a guaranteed win for a large portion of the visiting teams and a club that would never be in the running for anything other than winning a relegation battle. Now however, they have challenged for the Grand Final and then backed it up with an appearance the Challenge Cup. This is without a doubt one of the best achievements from a team that no one expected anything from for a number of years. The respect that the Red Devils have now within the game is unabashed. At the centre of this is Krisnan Inu, the ‘Smiling Assassin’, a name given to him from his time in the NRL when he would smile and laugh when taking a conversion. He has the personality and the Rugby League know-how to become a serious contender for the New Zealand top job. He was a participant with the 2008 winning New Zealand squad but since 2013 he hasn’t set the international game alight. However, with what he has achieved at Salford, Inu has that fire back and even though it would be a surprise if he were selected for the captaincy, it would be the vindication he deserves from time away from the international stage. 

Jahrome Hughes- Melbourne Storm

A massive season for Hughes last year saw him lift the Provan-Summons Trophy with the Melbourne Storm and his performances were far more than just noteworthy. For a small example of his skill, I would recommend readers to find the Melbourne try scored in the second half against Canberra Raiders on the 16th October last season. Hughes was instrumental in what, in this writer’s opinion, was the try of the year and without his cool head under pressure, it would never have happened. Obviously, one passage of play does not make the man, but Hughes puts in shifts like this every time he steps out on the field. Storm fans are safe in the knowledge that when Hughes has possession he will always make the right call. To have him as captain for the Kiwis would make a very interesting selection. 

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