When the NZRL Taurahere camp assembles on Queensland’s Gold Coast next week, the two 18s squads will deliberately not bear the names of their Australian home states.
Instead, New South Wales-based players will form the “Tu” squad, drawn from the Maori word meaning “stand up”, and Queensland-based players make up the “Toa” group, referring to “strength”.
“One of the real drivers for this programme is to reconnect our Australian-based players with their NZ heritage,” explains NZRL high performance general manager Brent Gemmell.
“Although they are largely drawn from these two Australian states, for the obvious reasons, we don’t want them thinking of this as some inter-state rivalry.
“They are not here to represent their states. Ultimately, they are there to represent one country – New Zealand.”
Tu (NSW) are so named because they were the first team to “stand up” as part of the Taurahere programme, facing NZ 18s in a two-game series two years ago.
Toa (Queensland) will add “strength” to the programme, when they come together for the first time at Runaway Bay on July 3.
The camp will culminate in a trial game on the final day, with a merit team named the following week.
Despite the team names, this programme is not a Maori-motivated campaign. Players and staff will be immersed in the “te iwi kiwi” culture, which embraces all the walks of life that make up the New Zealand rugby league community.
Many of the invited players, particularly in the Tu squad, have come through the NZ domestic pathway and are now contracted with NRL clubs or attend schools across the Tasman. For them, this will be a way to stay engaged with the national team programme, until they are selected for Junior Kiwis and Kiwis.
Others, though, have been born in Australia or have moved there while still young. These players are also eligible for State of Origin and Australian national teams, and must eventually choose which nationality to honour.
Recent Kiwis Kieran Foran, Gerard Beale and Jason Taumalolo, along with former captains Benji Marshall and Nathan Cayless, have all represented Australian Schoolboys, before opting to wear the black jersey.
But NSW Origin prop James Tamou (born Palmerston North) and Queensland forward Josh Papalii (born Auckland), both Australian internationals, represent the alternative, while talented Junior Kangaroos and Cronulla Sharks back Valentine Holmes (Maori father) is another leaning towards the green-and-gold.
Brisbane Broncos and former Junior Kiwis utility Kodi Nikorima (born Palmerston North) debuted for the Kiwis in England last year, but younger brother Jayden (also born Palmerston North) has opted for Junior Kangaroos.
“These are the kinds of players that we need to engage before they make those career decisions,” says Gemmell. “The more we can strengthen their NZ roots, the better chance we have of retaining them in the Kiwis programme.”
Perhaps the success story of the young Taurahere programme so far is Northland-raised forward James Fisher-Harris (20), one of that inaugural 2014 NSW outfit, but now a Junior Kiwi, Penrith Panthers first-grader and outside contender for the Kiwis’ Four Nations title defence later this year.
Among the players invited to Runaway Bay are some of the outstanding performers of NZ domestic competition last season:
Josh Uta, NZRL 16s Player of the Year, NZ 16s & NZ Schools Selection
Bostyn Hakaraia, NZ 18s & NZ Schools Selection
“This programme is really just picking up momentum,” says Gemmell. “The next step would be to give these Australian-based players an opportunity to face the NZ Residents and then select a full Kiwis 18s to take on Australian Schoolboys in coming years.”
Squads for the NZRL Taurahere Camp, Runaway Bay, July 3-6 are:
Donavan Briggs (WARRIORS), Haze Dunster (Parramatta Eels), Manase Fainu (Manly Sea Egales), Jackson Ferris (Cronulla Sharks), George Francis (N/A), Tevita Funa (Manly Sea Egales), Sione Hopoate (N/A), Soane Hufanga (WARRIORS), Phoenix Hunt (N/A), Oregan Kaufusi (Parramatta Eels), Sato Ketia-Opo (Canberra Raiders), Joey Los'e (South Sydney Rabbitohs), Steven Marsters (Illawarra Steelers), Giordan Patea (Canterbury Bulldogs), John Tuivaiti (Manly Sea Eagles), Lee Turner (WARRIORS), Paul Turner (WARRIORS), Joshua Uta (Illawarra Steelers), Beni Valu (Parramatta Eels) Coaches: Ezra Howe & Rangi Hiroti
TOA Jesse Arthars (RABBITOHS), Baylee Gerrard (Burleigh Colts), Bostyn Hakaraia (Gold Coast Titans), Liam Hori-Clark (Nerang Roosters), Joel Hughes (KNIGHTS), Lumafale Lualua (Cronulla Sharks), Antonio Nelu (Wests Tigers), Api Noema-Matenga (Gold Coast Titans), Eli Noovao (Central Queensland Capras), Ethan Paikea (Gold Coast Titans), Jaxson Paulo (Gold Coast Titans), Radean Robinson (Redcliffe Dolphins), Jayden Stephens (North Queensland Cowboys), Carlos Swasbrook-Murray (Sunshine Coast), Kobe Tararo (Gold Coast Titans), Emani Vaovasa (Gold Coast Green), Zane Wallace (N/A) Coaches: Roy Leoni & Tim McIntyre
Team Tu 66 (Tevita Funa 4, Haze Dunster 3, Lucky Taavale, Lee Turner, Manese Fainu, Steven Marsters, Paul Turner & Konrad Edwards tries; Sato-Ketia Opo 6, Tevita Funa goals) Team Toa 10 (Jaxson Paulo 2 tries; Bostyn Hakaraia goal); HT: 32-4
TU Most Valuable Player - John Tuivaiti
TOA Most Valuable Player - Ben Valeni
Final Teams TEAM TU
1 Steven Marsters, 2 Haze Dunster, 3 Jackson Ferris, 4 Lee Turner, 5 Tevita Funa, 6 Manese Fainu, 7 Sato Ketia-Opo, 8 Soane Hufanga, 9 Phoenix Hunt, 10 John Tuivaiti, 11 Beni Valu, 12 Oregon Kaufusi, 13 Joshua Uta, 14 Paul Turner, 15 Konrad Edwards, 16 Donavan Briggs, 17 Lucky Taavale, 18 Joey Los'e
Ins: Konrad Edwards, Lucky Taavale
Outs: George Francis, Sione Hopoate, Giordan Patea
1 Jesse Arthars, 2 Baylee Gerrard, 3 Jaxson Paulo, 4 Eli Noovao, 5 Liam Hori-Clark, 6 Radean Robinson, 7 Bostyn Hakaraia, 8 Carlos Swasbrook-Murray, 9 Zane Wallace, 10 Jayden Stephens, 11 Solomon Vasuvulagi, 12 Lumafale Lualua, 13 Emani Vaovasa, 14 Ben Valeni, 15 Laz Su'a, 16 Antonio Nelu, 17 Huston Holloway, 18 Arron Shelford, 19 Joel Hughes
Westlake Boys High School
Wallace was selected for the 2015 NSST tournament team and subsequently helped them to victory over the NSW schools side. At this year’s NZRL National High Performance Camp, he won the Leadership Award and scored two tries in the NZ 18s trial game to earn selection in the national merit team.
At the Auckland CRL awards, Wallace not only took out positional honours as the competition’s best half, he was also named Most Valuable Player.
“Zae is already performing against men in the Fox Memorial competition, so he’s playing competitively week in and week out,” says McMeeken. “He’s also performing against his own age group and definitely punching above his weight.
“I haven’t seen a lot of the other players, but what I have seen, I’ve been impressed with. I put this down to the strength of the Auckland schools competition.”
Pompey has starred for Wesley over the past two years in development grade, scoring the winning try in last year’s final, and was impressive enough to earn selection for the 2015 tournament team, scoring a late try that clinched the win over NSW Combined High Schools.
He was a key contributor to Wesley’s successful debut in this year’s Auckland CRL, named as outstanding five-eighth and top goal-kicker for the competition
Southern Cross Campus College
Named in the 2015 NSST tournament team, Togoiu went on to score the go-ahead try against NSW Combined High Schools. He scored a hat-trick of tries in this year’s NZ 18s trial and was duly named in the merit team chosen from that game.
Kelston Boys High School
After the 2016 NZRL National High Performance Camp, Ioka was named in the NZ 18s merit team and also stood out during the Auckland CRL competition, sharing honours as outstanding front rower.
Smalley ended last year’s NSST as one of the top try-scorers with four and was also named in the 2015 NZ 16s merit team, chosen from the NZRL National High Performance Camp. At the NZRL National Youth Tournament, he scored two tries for Counties Manukau in the 17s final loss to Akarana, but again was named in the merit team.
Smalley has spent most of this season with the NZ Warriors U20s in Holden Cup, but will return to boost his school’s hopes of defending its national title.
Westlake Boys High School
Inisi was a stand-out performer for Westlake in last year’s tournament and lined up at centre for NZ Secondary Schools against NSW Combined High Schools. He has continued that form into the 2016 season, where he was named Centre of the Year for the Auckland CRL competition.
But the outstanding talent on display is not limited to just Auckland schools. The national tournament is an opportunity for local rugby league aficionados to enjoy the skills of players they rarely get to see from around the country.
Kiwara was named in this year’s NZ Maori 17s tournament team and impressed at the NZRL National High Performance Camp as a first-year 18s prospect. He scored a try in the trial game, but was unlucky to miss out on merit-team selection.
“Awatere really impressed us at camp and has a great attitude, but probably needed another year of development for selection,” says McMeeken. “He was probably just a year young for selection to the NZ team and just needs another year in his development.”
Perhaps the most impressive athlete at this year’s NZRL National High Performance Camp, he led the 18s in agility, strength (99 press-ups) and endurance (19.2 yo-yo). He actually recorded a 20.1 yo-yo at Upper Central Zone performance camp and was recently named Most Valuable Player of the WaiCoaBay 17s competition, representing Turangawaewae.
“We’ve got a lot of outstanding players that play similar roles every week at this level, so it will be good to see Aublix come up against them for a comparison,” says McMeeken.
St Thomas of Canterbury
Aiiloilo recently returned from the legendary Keebra High School on the Gold Coast and impressed at last month’s South Island tournament, while also dominating the Canterbury schools competition.
“Sua is a big lump of a lad, quite mobile, and on his day, he’s a force to be reckoned with,” says McMeeken. “He tends to stand out down there, so it will be good to see him against opposition from the rest of the country.”
NZRL National Secondary Schools Tournament Awards
Vodaone Warriors Player of the Tournament - Kakoi Togoiu (Southern Cross Campus) More Than Just A Game Team Award - Aranui HS NZRL Best Cultural Salute - Trident HS Coach of the Tournament - Rod Ratu (Southern Cross Campus) Manager of the Tournament - Robyn Wackrow (Francis Douglas Memorial College) Trainer of the Tournament - Caley McLean (Aranui HS) Best Match Officials
Premier - Eric Kneepkens Development - Paki Parkinson Skills Fair Play Team of the Tournament - Avondale College It's Not OK Best & Fairest Awards
Overall - Logan Thambrian (Westlake BHS) Premier - Utah Ioka (Kelston BHS) Development - Junior Fiu (Sir Edmund Hillary College)
NZRL National Secondary Schools Tournament
Bruce Pulman Park, Papakura
Friday, September 2
St Thomas of Canterbury 22 Manukura School 4, Papatoetoe 34 Aranui HS 16, Mt Albert Grammar 24 Otahuhu College 14, Wesley College 40 Avondale College 24, Manurewa HS 18 Aorere College 10, Tamaki College 22 Tokoroa HS 20, Westlake BHS 32 St Paul’s College
Mt Roskill Grammar 36 Papakura HS 12, Trident HS 14 Sir Edmund Hillary College 10
Final Onehunga HS 21 (John Kaifa, Avia Lemafa, Mauri Bell & Mcgyver Liu Chan tries; Trefvor Marurai 2 goals & field goal) Tai Wananga 20 (Bailey Taylor, Sheldon Rogers & Josiah Nolan tries; Windsor Honotapu 2 goals)
1 Southern Cross Campus
2 Kelston BHS
3 Westlake BHS
4 St Paul's College
5 Tamaki College
6 Tokoroa HS
7 Manurewa HS
8 Aorere College
9 Wesley College
10 Avondale College
11 Mt Albert Grammar
12 Otahuhu College
13 Papatoetoe HS
14 Aranui HS
15 St Thomas of Canterbury
16 Manukura School
17 Onehunga HS
18 Tai Wananga
19 Trident HS
20 Sir Edmund Hillary College
21 Mt Roskill Grammar
22 Papakura HS
23 Francis Douglas Memorial College
Winners – Counties Manukau Stingrays
Runners-up – Akarana Falcons
Final MVP – Christian Tuipolotu (Akarana)
Fairplay Team – Wellington Orcas
Player of the Tournament – Fangupo-Paea Fotu (Counties Manukau)
Manager of the Tournament – Tania Harris (Counties Manukau)
Trainer of the Tournament – John Hansen (Akarana Falcons)
Coach of the Tournament – Mike Cudd (Counties Manukau)
Merit Team - Samuel Kamu (Akarana), Nathaneal Sasagi (Akarana), Christian Tuipulotu (Akarana), Christian Ma'anaima (Akarana), Marco Talagi (Counties Manukau), Talitua Salima (Counties Manukau), Brian Lealifano (Counties Manukau), Sam Taunga (Counties Manukau), Etuala Lui (Counties Manukau), Kaya Cuthers (Counties Manukau), Aamon Dean (Counties Manukau), Fangupo-Paea Fotu (Counties Manukau), Caius Faatili (Southern), Leroy Ferguson (Southern), Albert Talakai (Wai-Coa-Bay), Jahkay Roberts (Wai-Coa-Bay), Maui Wallace (Wellington)
(5/6) Wellington Orcas 24 (Tyler Jahnke 2, Mason Lucas, Daniel Mihaere & William Rua tries; Te Aorere Wanoa 2 goals) Wai-Coa-Bay Colts 20 (Lennox Jarratt 2, John Friis & Kobe Rodger tries; Liam Jones 2 goals)
(final) Akarana Falcons 44 (Mathew Timoko 2, Carlos Henry, Vito Tevaga, Jonty Timoti, Sean Mullany, Elijah Sufia & Ranaperi Baker tries; Regan McClennan 6 goals) South Island Scorpions 6 (Jordan Leigh try; Brad Campbell goal)
Winners – Akarana Falcons
Runners-up – South Island Scorpions
Final MVP – Matt Timoko (Akarana)
Fairplay Team – Wai-Coa-Bay Colts
Player of the Tournament – Jordan Leigh (South Island)
Manager of the Tournament – Marty Brown (Northern)
Trainer of the Tournament – Nick Le Comte (South Island)
Coach of the Tournament – Tai Arona (South Island)
Merit Team - Starford Toa (Akarana), Carlos Henry (Akarana), Vito Tevaga (Akarana), Matthew Timoko (Akarana), Regan McClennan (Akarana), Sean Mullany (Akarana), Javvier Pitovao (Akarana), Lewis Afeaki (Akarana), Alfred Smalley (Counties Manukau), Samiuela Lauhingoa (Counties Manukau), Kayleb Milne (Counties Manukau), Phillip Makatoa (Counties Manukau), Etene Nanai-Seturo (Counties Manukau), Jahlon Governor (Mid Central), Wesley Veikoso (Mid Central), Cruz Topai-Aveai (Southern), Jordan Leigh (Southern)
Referee’s Referee – Daniel Price Referee of the Tournament – Jaxon McGowan
Coaches for Elite Pathways
Coach: Nathan Cayless
Assistant Coaches: Kelvin Wright & Ezra Howe NZ Residents U18
Coach: Moehewa Armstrong NZ Secondary Schools
Coach: Duane Mann
Assistant Coach: Phil Gordon
Manager: Phil Roache NZ Residents U16
Coach: Andrew Auimatagi
Assistant Coach: Cody Walker
Manager: Mel Mather
Junior Kiwis v Junior Kangaroos - Friday 5 May 2017 - Canberra, Australia.
New Zealand Residents 18s v Taurahere - Saturday 23 September 2017 - Auckland.
NZSS v New South Wales Combined High Schools - Wednesday 4 October 2017, Puketawhero, Rotorua.
NZSS v New South Wales Combined High Schools - Saturday 7 October 2017, Auckland.
New Zealand Residents 16s v New Zealand Maoris 17s - Saturday 22 July 2017, Puketawhero, Rotorua.