Michael Burgess

Michael Burgess is the football and rugby league writer for the Herald on Sunday.

League: End of season test on cards for Kiwis

Benji Marshall of the Kiwis. Photo / Getty Images
Benji Marshall of the Kiwis. Photo / Getty Images

The New Zealand Rugby League hope to turn the NRL Grand Final weekend into a football fiesta, with an annual Kiwis match preceding the Grand Final.

As a solution to the perennial battle for more games for the Kiwis - and to try to dilute the Australian advantage gleaned from established State of Origin combinations - the NZRL plan to stage a test match on the Saturday of Australasian league's biggest weekend.

The game, to be played against Samoa, Tonga, the Cook Islands or Papua New Guinea, will likely be held in New Zealand.

Despite the plethora of Samoan and Tongan players within the New Zealand league scene, the Kiwis have only met Tonga on four occasions and Samoa just once - before the 2008 World Cup.

Papua New Guinea was the regular opponent in the 1980s (the Kiwis and the Kumuls met on seven occasions across the decade) but much less so since then, with only two clashes in the last 15 years and none between 1997 and 2008.

The New Zealand side would be chosen from the eight NRL teams that don't make the play-offs as well as the two teams that are knocked out in the first week of the finals.

"We hope to make it a permanent fixture," says NZRL CEO Jim Doyle, "and a highlight of the calendar."

"It's a way to get our team together and fit and also a chance for some of the younger players to play another international match. We probably couldn't call it an official Kiwis test - because some players would not be available due to ongoing club commitments - but it would be a New Zealand XIII."

This year the team could have been selected from the Eels, Panthers, Warriors, Roosters, Knights, Titans, Tigers, Dragons, Sharks and Broncos, with stars such as Benji Marshall, Shaun Johnson, Ben Matulino and Josh Hoffman available for such a match.

Outside World Cup tournaments, the Kiwis have often struggled to play a meaningful number of games due to the restricted calendar. The Kiwis have only played two test matches this year, whereas the All Blacks will have played 13 tests by the end of the year and the All Whites have already completed the same amount.

- Herald on Sunday

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