Northland rugby league fans will see some of New Zealand's best players in action when the NZ Warriors take on the West Tigers in a pre-season game at Whangārei next year.
The Warriors and Tigers will face off in a double header at the Northland Events Centre at Okara Park on March 2, with their main NRL and Intrust Super Premiership (reserves) squads also meeting.
The ISP game will kick off at 2.15pm and the NRL squad go head-to-head at 5pm. There will be up to 18 Kiwi players in both teams.
The match could also be a homecoming for players from both teams, with the Warriors' Adam Blair and Elijah Taylor from the Tigers both Northland-raised.
The game will also be one of the first for new Tigers coach (and Kiwis coach) Michael Maguire, where he will pit his wits against former New Zealand coach Stephen Kearney, who is in charge of the Warriors.
Maguire, who has just guided the Kiwis to a narrow test series loss in England, is returning to NRL coaching with the Tigers after a year off following a six-season stint with South Sydney from 2012-2017.
Northland Events Centre Trust chairman Alastair Wells said the two trials would provide a huge boost for the region.
"It's a fantastic event for the Northland region. The games will be held on Saturday afternoon to allow plenty of travel time for everyone in Northland to be able to attend,'' Wells said.
''We would also love to see visitors from Auckland and further south come up for the weekend to enjoy the event along with our wonderful Northland hospitality. The event will include a load of pre-match entertainment and plenty of activities for kids and youth, so make sure you get your tickets and come along and support your team."
Kearney welcomed the opportunity to take both Vodafone Warriors squads to Northland.
"As a club, we really enjoy playing in areas around the country and giving locals the chance to see our players up close," he said.
"This trial will be really important for us being our last hit-out before starting our season against the Bulldogs at Mount Smart Stadium on March 16. It's the same for our ISP team."
As well as their Kiwi coaching connection, Kearney and Maguire have Melbourne Storm links in common. They both served their coaching apprenticeships with the Storm under Craig Bellamy and went on to coach against each other when Kearney was with the Parramatta Eels and Maguire with the Rabbitohs in 2012.
The Whangārei match-up could see as many as 18 current or past Kiwis on show.
The Vodafone Warriors have eight players from their 2019 squad who have been on tour with the Kiwis in England – Ken Maumalo, Peta Hiku, Gerard Beale, Shaun Johnson, Northland born and bred Blair, Agnatius Paasi and Isaiah Papali'i plus new signing Leeson Ah Mau. They also boast Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, Issac Luke and Tohu Harris as well as Tonga internationals David Fusitu'a and Solomone Kata, who have also played for the Kiwis.
Wests Tigers have centre Esan Marsters from the Kiwi party in England as well as former Kiwis Benji Marshall, Ben Matulino, Russell Packer and Taylor (who was brought up in Herekino in the Far North). Other New Zealand-born players in their squad include Michael Chee-Kam, Josh Aloiai and Thomas Mikaele.
As well as having both teams in Whangārei for their NRL and ISP trials, the Vodafone Warriors will be out and about in the area making a number of community appearances during the days leading up to game day.
It will the fourth time the Vodafone Warriors have held a trial in Whangārei. They staged New South Wales Cup hit-outs there in 2011 and 2012 and an NRL trial against the Gold Coast Titans in 2016.