NZRL Media Release - Taurahere offer hope to offshore Kiwis
There's a bigger game being played out at this week's "Got A Trade?" NZRL National Youth Tournament in Rotorua.
Sure, the emphasis will be on a fever-pitch battle for the two titles up for grabs in 15s and 17s age groups, currently
held by Akarana Falcons and Counties Manukau Stingrays respectively.
And the competition will provide yet another opportunity for NRL agents and scouts to uncover the next great Kiwi
But the sub-plot to this event will be New Zealand's Rugby League's attempt to capture the hearts of its offshore talent
before it is snapped up by Aussie state programmes.
On Monday and Friday, the NZ 18s will face the Taurahere Kiwis, a side made up of NZ-eligible players from New South
Wales. Most are players who have come through the domestic age-group pathway, before signing contracts with Australian
But, in future, this may include more whose families have relocated across the Tasman or even players that have never
lived in New Zealand, but claim Kiwi heritage.
Like Valentine Holmes, who recently turned down the chance to play for the NZ Kiwis, and pledged his allegiance to
Queensland and Australia.
"There are several layers to this," explains NZRL talent development manager Dean Watkins. "Firstly, we want to
reconnect with our players that have transferred to Australia to strengthen their bonds with Aotearoa.
"It's a chance for early talent identification of players with NZ affiliations and to build their desire to wear the
black jumper before Junior Kiwis stage.
"And it also ensures that we have regular high-quality fixtures for our NZ-based age group sides, so we're not reliant
on other organisations."
The NZ 18s and 16s have recently enjoyed a rivalry with Queensland Academy of Sport, but were left without fixtures this
year, when the Maroons withdrew.
"We're not trying to get a sign of allegiance from these kids," says Watkins. "We're purely giving them an opportunity
to play for their country at an early age, which they have been denied previously, because they're living outside the
"We see their value in the international game."
Coached by former Central Vipers age-group coach Rangi Hiroti, the inaugural Taurahere side includes son Haimona (South
Sydney) and Daniel Lillicoat (Cronulla), both former NZ 16s representatives.
Faitatoa Faitatoa (Newcastle) played for NZ 18s last year, while Joseph Manu, Chevy Ellis and Poasa Fa'amausil have
already worn an Australian jersey. They were part of the Sydney Roosters team that won the SG Ball Cup competition and
represented that country at the Commonwealth nines tournament in Glasgow this year.
"This team will be a quality side, even though they're missing some of their superstars through injury or
unavailability," says Watkins.
The vision for the Taurahere programme would see an annual game between NSW and Queensland-based sides, with an
Australian selection then facing the NZ national teams in both age groups.
NZ 18s v TAURAHERE KIWIS 18s
Puketawhero Park, Rotorua
First Test - Monday, September 29, 12.45pm
Second Test - Friday, October 3, 12.15pm
Sione Afemui (Canberra Raiders), Harry Barsdell (South Sydney Rabbitohs), Harlan Collins (Manly Sea Eagles), Chevy Ellis
(Sydney Roosters), Poasa Fa'amausil (Sydney Roosters), Faitatoa Faitatoa (Newcastle Knights), Kalani Going (Canberra
Raiders), James Fisher-Harris (Penrith Panthers), Haimona Hiroti (South Sydney Rabbitohs), Jamayne Isaako (Cronulla
Sharks), Paora Kemp (Illawarra Steelers), Daniel Lillicoat (Cronulla Sharks), Joseph Manu (Sydney Roosters), Moses Mc
Greal (Manly Sea Eagles), Marcel Owen (Wests Tigers), Sifa Talakai (South Sydney Rabbitohs), Johnathan Tufuga (South
Sydney Rabbitohs), Netana Vi (St George Illawarra Dragons), Jack Williams (Canberra Raiders)
Joseph Apikotoa (Wellington/Randwick), Erin Clark (Akarana/Pt Chevalier), Mattais Heimuli (Akarana/Glenora), Mafoa'aeata
Hingano (Counties Manukau/Pakuranga), Jamel Hunt (Counties Manukau/Otahuhu), Zion Ioka (Akarana/Glenora), Nick Lui-Toso
(Akarana/Glenora), Dre Melvin (Wellington/Porirua), Christian Mika (Counties Manukau/Otahuhu), Tyler Mohi (Counties
Manukau/Mangere East), Ofahiki Ogden (Counties Manukau/Mangere East), Fabien Paletua-Kiri (Mid Central/Kia Ora), Reuben
Porter (Akarana/Te Atatu), Joseph Price (Counties Manukau/Mangere East), Ken Tofilau (South Island/Halswell), Fuaimamao
Uta (Akarana/Northcote), Tiaan Wilkins (Counties Manukau/Mangere East), Eddie Wulf (Akarana/Marist), Logan Yates