There are plans for the Kiwis to have at least two test matches this year – ahead of the Rugby League World Cup – despite the ongoing uncertainty caused by the Covid-19 situation.
The Kiwis didn't play in 2020, due to the border restrictions imposed by the pandemic, with prospective tests against Tonga, Australia, Samoa and Papua New Guinea all cancelled.
It was the first time since 1976 that the Black and White V wasn't sighted during a season but New Zealand Rugby League chief executive Greg Peters is more hopeful for 2021.
"We are confident we will be playing test matches this year, as we build towards the World Cup," Peters told the Herald. "There are a number of challenges but we are planning for games."
The first would be a June test against Tonga in Auckland, during the NRL representative window, though that is a long shot, dependent on quarantine free transtasman travel.
Peters says the deadline to proceed with that match is late March.
A more realistic proposal is for one or two internationals in October, before the team departs for the World Cup in England (October 23-November 27).
A match with the Kangaroos in Australia is scheduled – last year was the first time the transtasman rivals didn't meet since 1996 – as well as a provisional game in New Zealand in the same month, against either Tonga or Samoa.
"Things are far from certain, but it is important to be playing in front of our fans," said Peters.
Peters is confident the World Cup will proceed as planned, despite the scale of the Covid-19 challenges in the northern hemisphere.
Almost all sport in England has been played in front of empty stadiums since last April, with many events cancelled.
But Prime Minister Boris Johnson said last week that fans could be allowed back, in varying numbers, from the end of May, ahead of big summer events like Wimbledon, the European Football Championships and test cricket, as long as the rate of infection continues to fall.
"Obviously a lot of things are still to be decided, but we are planning as if it is going ahead," said Peters. "We think it will be the biggest and best [World Cup] that has ever been held."
The NZRL high performance team recently completed a virtual tour of their facilities in York, where both the Kiwis and Kiwi Ferns will be based.
On the domestic front, Peters is effusive about the new National Under-20 competition, which features six teams (Northland, Auckland Blue, Auckland White, Central Districts, Waicoa Bay and South Island) and starts this weekend.
It's another plank in the NZRL's youth strategy, to provide more pathways for talented teenagers, where there is currently a vacuum.
"We need to be showcasing the opportunity that rugby league can provide for our kids - a 'build it and they will come' approach," says Peters, who points out that 150 hopefuls trialled for the two Auckland teams.
"To have six teams nationally and live on television on both sides of the Tasman is a real boost for the sport."
"We have come through 2020 in pretty good shape, given everything we were faced with last year, and there is a lot to look forward to."