League: Grand final trio forced out of Kiwis

New Zealand have lost stars Manu Vatuvei, Shaun Johnson and Steve Matai for this month's rugby league Test with Australia. Photo / Getty Images
New Zealand have lost stars Manu Vatuvei, Shaun Johnson and Steve Matai for this month's rugby league Test with Australia. Photo / Getty Images

The Kiwis have been forced to make three changes to their Four Nations squad, with Manu Vatuvei, Shaun Johnson and Steve Matai all ruled out for medical reasons.

The trio have been replaced by Warriors Krisnan Inu and Elijah Taylor plus North Queensland winger Kalifa Faifai Loa.

Vatuvei has battled with knee and wrist problems throughout the season but still managed to score 12 tries in 19 matches, the fifth-straight year he has been the Warriors' top try scorer. Kiwi team doctor Simon Mayhew said Vatuvei needed end-of-season treatment which might include surgery.

While Johnson finished the 2011 campaign by making 16 NRL appearances, he had a late start due to a back injury, and Mayhew said Johnson needed a period of rest to fully recover.

Matai has a recent history of shoulder and neck complaints which flared up again during Manly's grand final win. Manly's medical staff have told Mayhew Matai may need off-season surgery.

Considering the Kiwis have numerous options in the halves, the selectors have replaced Johnson with back-rower Taylor.

Inu has been recalled after last being in the Kiwi squad for the 2009 Four Nations. He wasn't used during that campaign but played four Tests in 2007 and 2008.

Faifai Loa scored 10 tries in 22 games for the Cowboys this year, joining the club after making his NRL debut when he was with St George Illawarra last year.

Born in Wellington, the 21-year-old was raised in Auckland where he played his junior football for the Marist Saints before linking with Newcastle and then being signed by the Dragons. He joined the Cowboys for the 2011 season.

With Taylor and Faifai Loa coming into the squad, the Kiwis now have seven uncapped players, the others being Kevin Locke, Russell Packer, Gerard Beale, Alex Glenn and Kevin Proctor.

A total of 12 players have been ruled out of consideration due to injury - Josh Hoffman (Brisbane), Lance Hohaia (Warriors), Sam Rapira (Warriors), Matt Duffie (Melbourne), Sam Perrett (Sydney Roosters), Shaun Kenny-Dowall (Sydney Roosters), Frank-Paul Nuuausala (Sydney Roosters), Greg Eastwood (Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs) and Bronson Harrison (Canberra) plus Vatuvei, Matai and Johnson.

In addition, Bulldogs second-rower Frank Pritchard was unavailable after committing himself to Toa Samoa.

The Kiwis are due to assemble in Sydney on Sunday where they will train for three days before travelling to Newcastle take on the Kangaroos next Sunday.

Following the Newcastle international, the Kiwis will return to Sydney before flying out to England for their Four Nations also involving Australia, Wales and England.

- APNZ

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