It's official - Sam Kasiano is a Kiwi.
The Auckland-born-and-raised NRL prop of the year last night confirmed he would accept selection for the Kiwis side to take on Australia in Townsville on October 13.
That decision brings to an end a long-running saga that began when Queensland coach Mal Meninga began openly courting the game's premier young front rower.
Kasiano has played for the Junior Kiwis and signed a letter of intent to represent New Zealand at senior level, however his commitment to the cause appeared to waiver when he was overlooked for May's Anzac test. Australian newspaper reports fuelled speculation the 22-year-old would join James Tamou and Josh Papali'i and turn his back on a Kiwis jersey in order to pursue more lucrative State of Origin ambitions.
Yesterday afternoon NZRL general manager high performance Tony Kemp contacted Kasiano's manager Damien McGregor-Lowndes to seek clarification of Kasiano's position. McGregor-Lowndes told Kemp the NZRL was "perfectly entitled to pick him", but refused to elaborate.
Kemp then spoke to Kasiano to tell him he had been selected, with the former Otahuhu junior confirming he would join the squad.
"He will be in the New Zealand team," Kemp said. "The selectors are very happy that Sam wants to be in the Kiwi team.
"It's been a fairly big week for Sam with making the [NRL] grand final and then on the verge of his international debut. So it's another feather in his cap and he should be proud of himself."
The axing of stalwart back rower and long-time vice-captain Adam Blair is the other major feature of the squad. A key member of the 2008 World Cup and 2010 Four Nations-winning sides, Blair has paid the price for a lacklustre season after joining Wests Tigers from the Melbourne Storm.
His place is likely to go to recalled forward Greg Eastwood, who produced some stunning form in the Bulldogs' run to the grand final.
Krisnan Inu, Frank Pritchard and Sam Perrett are all expected to be named from the defeated Bulldogs side, while Jesse Bromwich and Kevin Proctor are the likely call-ups from the premiership-winning Storm.
Prop Ben Matulino leads a Warriors contingent that should include captain Simon Mannering, Shaun Johnson and Elijah Taylor.
Nathan Fien's retirement frees up a bench utility spot but it will not go to Wigan's Warriors-bound playmaker Thomas Leuluai. No players will be included from the Super League.
Possible Kiwis squad
Gerard Beale, Kieran Foran, Josh Hoffman, Krisnan Inu, Shaun Johnson, Simon Mannering, Benji Marshall (c), Sam Perrott, Manu Vatuvei.
Jesse Bromwich, Greg Eastwood, Sam Kasiano, Ben Matulino, Sam McKendry, Frank Pritchard, Kevin Proctor, Jeremy Smith, Elijah Taylor, Sika Manu.