Four players are in line to make their New Zealand debuts while co-captain Adam Blair has been declared fit to play the first rugby league Test against England in Hull.
Centre Jordan Kahu and halfback Tuimoala Lolohea have been named in the starting team for Sunday’s series opener while forward Siosiua Takieaho and utility Kodi Nikorima are included on a six-man interchange bench.
The quartet debuted for their country against the Leeds Rhinos last week and coach Stephen Kearney has stuck with the group that beat the English club champions for the first of three Tests.
“The purpose of last week’s exercise was to give a run to some guys that hadn’t played in a while,” Kearney said.
“It was a matter of building that consistency, that’s why they’ve got the opportunity again this week.”
Lolohea forms a raw halves pair with stand-off Peta Hiku in the absence of injured pair Shaun Johnson and Kieran Foran.
The rest of the backline, aside from Kahu, has a settled look.
Likewise the forward pack has numerous proven performers, with Kearney having the luxury of putting some leading NRL talent on the bench.
Kahu (groin) and Blair (calf) both left the Leeds game with injuries but have recovered sufficiently to be included in the extended 19-man Test squad. The starting line-up will be finalised shortly before kick-off.
Brisbane Bronco hard man Blair’s niggle has caused the most concern over the last week and he has been carefully managed by the Kiwis medical team.
“That’s still an ongoing exercise and well make a call on Adam as late as tomorrow,” Kearney said.
“If he’s unable to take the field, we’ve got some pretty handy replacements. Hopefully, for Adam, he will get the chance to skipper the team with Issac Luke.”
NZ: Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, Jason Nightingale, Jordan Kahu, Dean Whare, Shaun Kenny-Dowall, Peta Hiku, Tuimoala Lolohea, Jesse Bromwich, Issac Luke (co-capt), Sam Moa, Kevin Proctor, Tohu Harris, Adam Blair (co-capt). Interchange (from): Kodi Nikorima, Martin Taupau, Ben Matulino, Siosiua Takeiaho, Alex Glenn, Lewis Brown.