David Skipwith is the Herald's rugby league reporter

League: Simon Mannering set to reclaim Kiwis captaincy, Thomas Leuluai to play five-eighth in transtasman test

Wing Jason Nightingale, forward Martin Taupau, halfback Shaun Johnson and outside back Shaun Kenny-Dowall have all been named in the Kiwis initial 23-man wider training squad. Photo / Getty Images.
Wing Jason Nightingale, forward Martin Taupau, halfback Shaun Johnson and outside back Shaun Kenny-Dowall have all been named in the Kiwis initial 23-man wider training squad. Photo / Getty Images.

Warriors lock Simon Mannering is poised to reclaim the Kiwis captaincy and playmaker Thomas Leuluai will start at five-eighth in the end of year transtasman test against the Kangaroos in Perth ahead of their Four Nations defence in England in November.

The pair are among 11 Warriors named yesterday in coach Stephen Kearney's initial 23-man training squad drawn from clubs that missed the NRL playoffs.

The group contains eight players who are yet to play for the national side, with Warriors backline utility David Fusitu'a, centre Solomone Kata, prop Sam Lisone and back-rower Bodene Thompson, joining Manly front-rower Addin Fonua-Blake, Sydney Roosters forward Isaac Liu, Wests Tigers centre Tim Simona, and Parramatta centre Brad Takairangi.

Thompson, Liu, and Takairangi have been part of Kiwis squads before, without actually taking the field.

Veteran Kiwis and fellow Warriors Shaun Johnson, Issac Luke, Manu Vatuvei, Ben Matulino, and one-test youngster Tui Lolohea are also among the squad.

Kearney confirmed Mannering as his first-choice skipper and that Leuluai will wear the No 6 jersey when New Zealand meet Australia at Nib Stadium on October 15, after both players missed last year's end of season two-one series loss to England and the midseason transtasman test defeat to Australia in May through illness and injury.

"I've always said that if Simon's fit and ready to go he'll be captain of the Kiwis," said Kearney.

"That will be Tommy Leuluai," he added when asked who would likely accompany Johnson in the Kiwis halves.

Matulino, Vatuvei, Thompson and Lisone have all been included after being stood down from test selection for the 16-0 loss to the Kangaroos in Newcastle in May, after admitting their involvement in the Warriors prescription pills and energy drinks scandal.

Kearney was happy to welcome the quartet back in from the cold but none are guaranteed spots in the final 24-man squad that will be named in the week after the NRL grand final on October 2.

"They've all learned from their mistakes," he said. "I know what they're capable of ability-wise.

"But in terms of the team culture and what we're trying to protect here with the Kiwi jersey, we'll make that decision upon naming the side."

Roosters prop Jared Waerea-Hargreaves was another notable inclusion after dropping out of the selection frame following the Kiwis disappointing 2013 World Cup campaign.

Kearney was enthused by the 27-year-old's form since returning from a knee injury which robbed him of a test recall last year, but acknowledged he faces some tough selection calls with numerous contenders for both the front-row and outside back positions.

"He was in the best form of his career last year so there's a good chance he would have been selected.

"There's a depth there now right particularly through the tight forwards and wing positions where it's going to be tough.

"For me that's going to be the most challenging part.

"Obviously the guys that are still playing through September get the advantage there."

Several Kiwis regulars are already ruled out through injury and other factors, including Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, Peta Hiku, Dean Whare, Kieran Foran and Kodi Nikorima.

The first group of Kiwis train-on players named is:

Lewis Brown Manly Warringah Sea Eagles
Addin Fonua-Blake Manly Warringah Sea Eagles
David Fusitu'a Warriors
Shaun Johnson Warriors
Solomone Kata Warriors
Shaun Kenny-Dowall Sydney Roosters
Thomas Leuluai Warriors
Sam Lisone Warriors
Isaac Liu Sydney Roosters
Tuimoala Lolohea Warriors
Issac Luke Warriors
Simon Mannering Warriors
Ben Matulino Warriors
Manu Ma'u Parramatta Eels
Sam Moa Sydney Roosters
Jason Nightingale St George Illawarra Dragons
Tim Simona Wests Tigers
Brad Takairangi Parramatta Eels
Martin Taupau Manly Warringah Sea Eagles
Elijah Taylor Wests Tigers
Bodene Thompson Warriors
Manu Vatuvei Warriors
Jared Waerea-Hargreaves Sydney Roosters

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