Rabbitohs hooker, Issac Luke, has today been selected in New Zealand’s Four Nations squad following another memorable season in the red and green.
Luke has played 29 Tests for the Kiwis to date, has won a World Cup in the black and white, and also played an integral role in the side’s progression to last year’s Rugby League World Cup Final against Australia.
Four rookies have been included in the NZ Kiwis squad to contest the Four Nations tournament over the next six weeks.
Teenage Penrith wing Dallin Watene-Zelezniak, Cronulla utility Sosaia Feki, North Queensland second row Jason Taumalolo and Vodafone Warriors prop Suaia Matagi are the newcomers in a 24-man squad that will also see Penrith utility Lewis Brown back in the black jersey for the first time since 2011.
This won't be Taumalolo's first experience with the Kiwis - he was a non-playing member of the 2012 Anzac Test to Australia - but this will be another chance for him to finally take the field.
Watene-Zelezniak earns his spot with an outstanding debut season for the Panthers, which produced seven tries in 10 appearances and helped his injury-riddled side deep into to the NRL playoffs.
Feki and Matagi get their chances with the late withdrawals of Sydney Roosters team-mates Roger Tuivasa-Sheck and Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, both through burnout from a long season.
Brown (Kiwi #762) has played five tests for his country and has reclaimed his spot in the side with consistently outstanding performances for the Panthers.
"We're really excited for the new players coming in for their first time or, in Jason's case, another chance to earn his first cap," says Kiwis coach Stephen Kearney. "They've all had great seasons in the NRL, and this will be a chance for them to show they can step up and contribute at the next level.
"After our World Cup disappointment last year, I think we made some very positive strides at this year's Anzac Test. We get a few older heads back for this campaign - they will provide some experience, and hopefully will feed off the energy and passion from those younger guys."
"We're very focused on building a team and culture that will see us challenge for the next Rugby League World Cup in 2017, so these new players now have a chance to become part of that long-term process."
Of the train-on squad named over the past month, several players have become unavailable though injury or health issues. They include Konrad Hurrell (Vodafone Warriors), Ben Matulino (Vodafone Warriors), Sam McKendry (Penrith Panthers), Tuivasa-Sheck and Waerea-Hargreaves.
"It's always disappointing to lose players this way, but this is a tough game and you have to expect a certain amount of attrition at the end of any season," says Kearney. "You have to take a longer-term view of these things - it's important they get themselves right and come back to us when they can."
The Kiwis will assemble on the Gold Coast on October 18 and begin their Four Nations campaign against Australia at Brisbane's Suncorp Stadium, October 25.
The NZ Kiwis squad for the 2014 Four Nations tournament is:
Gerard Beale (St George Illawarra Dragons)
Adam Blair (Wests Tigers)
Jesse Bromwich (Melbourne Storm)
Lewis Brown (Penrith Panthers)
Greg Eastwood (Canterbury Bulldogs)
Sosaia Feki (Cronulla Sharks)
Kieran Foran (Manly Sea Eagles)
Tohu Harris (Melbourne Storm)
Siliva Havili (New Zealand Warriors)
Peta Hiku (Manly Sea Eagles)
Shaun Johnson (New Zealand Warriors)
Shaun Kenny-Dowall (Sydney Roosters)
Thomas Leuluai (New Zealand Warriors)
Issac Luke (South Sydney Rabbitohs)
Simon Mannering (New Zealand Warriors)
Suaia Matagi (New Zealand Warriors)
Sam Moa (Sydney Roosters)
Jason Nightingale (St George Illawarra Dragons)
Kevin Proctor (Melbourne Storm)
Jason Taumalolo (North Queensland Cowboys)
Martin Taupau (Wests Tigers)
Manu Vatuvei (New Zealand Warriors)
Dallin Watene-Zelezniak (Penrith Panthers)
Dean Whare (Penrith Panthers)
Congratulations to Issac for his selection in New Zealand’s squad.