Debuts for classy Broncos fullback Josh Hoffman and promising Storm prop Jesse Bromwich, and a return for hitman Frank Pritchard are the likely features of the Kiwis' Anzac test side to be named tomorrow.
Hoffman's call-up has long been signalled. The 23-year-old would have debuted on last year's Four Nations tour but his season was ended prematurely by a knee injury.
Born in Mackay, Queensland, but with Maori heritage, Hoffman has always intended to play for the Kiwis. He told an Australian newspaper a visit to his ancestors' burial ground with his father, Shane, when the Broncos played the Warriors in 2010 had confirmed his decision.
"It touched me. I wanted to learn more about the culture and to play for the Kiwis," Hoffman said. "Growing up I always watched the Kiwis play and I always looked up to my dad. There was never a pull to play for Queensland when I was young."
Bromwich's call-up would be more of a surprise. The 22-year-old former Manurewa player is fast forging a reputation as one of the most promising props in the game as part of a resurgent Melbourne Storm side. In his third season at the Storm, he ranks 16th among NRL props in total metres gained this season from just over 40 minutes of game time.
He could feature in a front-row rotation that will also feature Warriors standout Ben Matulino, Roosters hard man Jared Waerea-Hargreaves and massive Panthers prop Sam McKendry, who should return to test duty after suffering a broken jaw against Wales at Wembley last November.
Other candidates include regular Stephen Kearney favourite Greg Eastwood, Warriors prop Sam Rapira and young Bulldogs star Sam Kasiano.
Both Kasiano and young Cowboys talent Jason Taumalolo are on the selectors' radar after holding recent talks with NZRL high-performance manager Tony Kemp.
However, barring suspension or injury to other contenders this weekend, it appears unlikely the pair will squeeze into a Kiwis side that will rank as one of the most powerful and experienced ever fielded.
Much of the side picks itself. The halves pairing of captain Benji Marshall and Kieran Foran is set in stone, while senior outside backs Steve Matai, Shaun Kenny-Dowall, Jason Nightingale and Manu Vatuvei were all available as of yesterday.
The back-row trio of Simon Mannering, Jeremy Smith and vice-captain Adam Blair can also be considered lock-ins. The identity of the hooker and make-up of the bench appear the most contentious areas.
Having last played for the Kiwis in 2010 and subsequently declared his desire to play for Samoa, 21-test veteran Pritchard had appeared to be out of the frame. However recent discussions with Kemp, during which he reaffirmed his desire to play for the Kiwis, suggest the 28-year-old Pritchard may be in line for a return.
An NZRL spokesman confirmed the selectors would meet via conference call and the team would be named on Sky TV tomorrow evening.By Steve Deane Email Steve