Michael Burgess is a sports writer for the Herald on Sunday.

League: Kiwis name intriguing squad for ANZAC test

Russell Packer in his last test for the Kiwis in 2011. Photo / Photosport
Russell Packer in his last test for the Kiwis in 2011. Photo / Photosport

The Kiwis side named for Friday's Anzac test is one of the most intriguing in recent memory.

There are a couple of genuine bolters, a return from the wilderness for Russell Packer, an all-Warriors spine and the omission of some Kiwis stalwarts.

Russell Packer returns to the international scene for the first time in 2011, while young Storm hooker Brandon Smith - who has yet to play an NRL match - has been plucked from nowhere.

Fellow Storm forward Nelson Asofa-Solomona is the eye-catching selection, as the two metre, 115 kg prop has only made 36 NRL appearances.

He's raw, but also incredibly powerful. After being physically dominated in their last four transtasman clashes (all defeats), Asofa-Solomona will bring an aggressive edge to the pack. The Kangaroos will test his mobility and big match smarts, but also won't be thrilled about the prospect of tackling him.

Packer is an unlikely story. A few years ago it seems an impossible dream that he would add to his two test caps, after he spent a year in jail for a violent assault outside a Sydney bar. At one point he was unlikely to return to the NRL, but the Dragons gave him a chance and he has been one of the main reasons behind their unexpected rise this year.

"Russell's one of those feel good stories, from where he's come from to the way he's playing this year," said Kidwell. "He's been one of those consistent front-rowers who just takes it forward and provides those quick play the balls. The excitement in his voice when I gave him a call last week, he's really hungry to get back into the Kiwis and that's something that I want the feel of in the Kiwis environment, that hunger."

Smith is a surprise, and there will be plenty of league fans around the country saying 'Brandon who?'. He has appeared for the Junior Kiwis but hasn't yet tasted first grade. It harks back to the 1980s and early 1990s, when players were plucked from obscurity into the test arena.

Smith is unlikely to play - as Kodi Nikorima is the likely deputy to Issac Luke - but is one for the future.

"He plays hooker, a position we need to build depth in," said Kidwell. "I know he's held in high regard at Melbourne Storm, so he's a guy we wanted to bring in and give him a bit of a taste of it."

Kieran Foran and Simon Mannering make a welcome return to the fold, as their absence has coincided with four consecutive defeats to the Kangaroos. Kidwell will also be able to field an all star spine, who haven't be sighted in the black and white V since the 2015 Anzac test.

Shaun Kenny-Dowall and Greg Eastwood are notable absentees, while Thomas Leuluai and Manu Ma'u were considered due to injury. Kenny-Dowall has been a first choice outside back for most of this decade, but has paid the price for disappointing displays in the Four Nations campaign.

Kiwis squad: Nelson Asofa-Solomona, Adam Blair, Jesse Bromwich, Kenny Bromwich, Kieran Foran, David Fusitu'a, Shaun Johnson, Jordan Kahu, Issac Luke, Simon Mannering, Kodi Nikorima, Russell Packer, Kevin Proctor, Jordan Rapana, Brandon Smith, Jason Taumalolo, Martin Taupau, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, Dallin Watene-Zelezniak, Dean Whare.

- NZ Herald

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