The Kiwis squad that departs for England tonight reflects the impressive depth New Zealand league currently has.

It wasn't so long ago the weeks leading up to a Kiwis team naming were nervous ones.

Fans and coaches alike knew that one or two untimely injuries, as well as some of the traditional pre-test suspensions the NRL specialises in, would put a different complexion on the state of the team.

There was much less cover. There were players - think of Ruben Wiki, Quentin Pongia, Jarrod McCracken, Nigel Vagana - who the Kiwis couldn't afford to lose, but often did.


Before the 1993 tour, they lost McCracken (surgery) and Brent Todd (injury) and never really recovered, losing the series 3-0. In 2002, Gary Freeman's team lost a number of key players on the eve of the tour - as well as some early on - and gradually fell apart, being comprehensively beaten in the series.

It feels different now. Remember, this team are without their captain and most experienced player (Simon Mannering), their second-most experienced player and best defender (Thomas Leuluai), one of the world's best attacking players (Shaun Johnson) and one of the most reliable halves in the sport (Kieran Foran).

Then throw in the Dally M lock of the year (Jason Taumalolo), as well as the experience and power of Jared Waerea-Hargreaves and Manu Vatuvei.

That's a stunning array of talent left behind. Even the All Blacks, who probably have the best depth of any team in world professional sport, might struggle without Richie McCaw, Dan Carter, Kieran Read, Owen Franks, Aaron Smith, Julian Savea and Sonny Bill Williams.

But there seems to be less angst about this team, especially in the forwards. Even without Taumalolo, Mannering and Waerea-Hargreaves, it's a formidable pack, arguably still the best in the world. If you assume a form first-choice six of Jesse Bromwich, Issac Luke, Adam Blair, Kevin Proctor, Tohu Harris and Sio Siua Taukeiaho, that leaves the likes of Sam Moa, Ben Matulino, Martin Taupau, Alex Glenn, Lewis Brown, Issac Liu and Kodi Nikorima jostling for three or four places on the interchange bench. It's enviable.

The backline isn't so bountiful, with Johnson and Foran the most difficult to replace of the missing men. It's a big ask for Tui Lolohea, Peta Hiku and Nikorima to fill the No 6 and 7 jerseys, but the nucleus of Jason Nightingale, Dean Whare, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck and Shaun Kenny-Dowall around them helps.

"We have tried to build depth over the last few years and we are seeing it now," said coach Stephen Kearney. "And on this tour we need to build more depth. You never know what is going to happen and we need to give some young players the opportunities, [otherwise] how do we know if they can do it?"