New Zealand suffered a massive blow with Jason Taumalolo turning his back on the national side to play with Tonga at this year’s World Cup.  Will that hurt the chances of the co-hosts?

Embed from Getty Images

What to expect?

It has not been a smooth lead up to the World Cup for the Kiwis camp – in fact it could not have gone any worse. A majority of the media coverage and discussion surrounding the Kiwis has been about player conflicts causing drama within the team and talk of them being the new underdogs of the competition. With Jason Taumalolo, Kieran Foran, Tohu Harris, Jesse Bromwich and Kevin Proctor not apart of the Kiwis squad, the team is lacking star power and has fans worried they will be in for a disappointing, cringe-inducing performance throughout this World Cup.

It has already been a terrible start to the Kiwis campaign due to players swapping allegiances only weeks out from the competition, a seemingly endless list of players opting out and the crucial loss of assistant coach Garth Brennan. Although this seems like the beginning of a disastrous campaign, it could possibly work out in their favour. The overwhelming amount of negative attention on the team may be just what they need to motivate them to prove everyone wrong, dominate the competition and show they are the team to watch out for. The Kiwis squad will want to come out firing and make their past teammates regret their decision of turning down the black and white jersey. After all, an underdog win is the best kind of win and it’s what us Kiwis do best.

Players to watch

Te Maire Martin

In 2016 Te Maire Martin made his Kiwis debut against Scotland in the Four Nations, now only one year on and at the age of 22 he is one of the most important players in the squad. It has been known for a long time that he had the potential to have a massive impact on the New Zealand team and now he will have the chance to show what he’s worth in the 2017 World Cup.

His career in the NRL has skyrocketed this year as he began the season on the sidelines for the Panthers and ended it by replacing Johnathan Thurston and starting for the Cowboys in the Grand Final. I’m excited to see what he can bring to the Kiwis this World Cup – if it’s anything like what he has done in the NRL this season I have high hopes.

Nelson Asofa-Solomona

The Melbourne Storm prop Nelson Asofa-Solomona will be making his anticipated debut this World Cup and will be looking to secure his spot in the Kiwis line-up for future tests. The young 21 year-old has made a name for himself this year among the NRL scene as he has begun taking advantage of his immense size and power.

He may be young but the former Junior Kiwis representative could make a real difference for the Kiwis as he adds size to the forward pack and a bit of mongrel to the game.

Prediction

It honestly could go either way with the Kiwis but in my opinion I think the team will come out firing with passion and the motivation to prove they are contenders and not a team to be taken lightly. There will be mistakes made and a teething period due to the short amount of time the team’s been together. With the talent that is available to them in the squad, the combinations will fall into place and they will begin to cause havoc for the rest of the competition.

How far will the Kiwis go at the Rugby League World Cup?

Kiwis Squad

Nelson Asofa-Solomona, Gerard Beale, Adam Blair, Kenneath Bromwich, Addin Fonua-Blake, Peta Hiku, Shaun Johnson, Thomas Leuluai, Danny levi, Isaac Liu, Simon Mannering, Te Maire Martin, Jason Nightingale, Kodi Nikorima, Russel Packer, Jordan Rapana, Brad Takairangi, Joseph Tapine, Martin Taupau, Elijah Taylor, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, Dallin Watene-Zelezniak, Dean Whare