Veteran hooker Issac Luke has paid for his patchy form by being axed from the New Zealand squad to face Australia in Friday’s rugby league Test in Newcastle.
Melbourne Jesse Bromwich has been promoted to captain for the first time in place of the injured Simon Mannering, leap-frogging Luke and Adam Blair, who were co-captains on last year’s tour of England.
While Blair has been retained from the squad that lost that series 2-1, Luke’s poor transition from South Sydney to NRL rivals the Warriors this season has resulted in a demotion.
His berth at hooker is set to be filled by 22-year-old Brisbane utility Kodi Nikorima, who was the starting halfback for the last two Tests of the England series.
Uncapped Newcastle hooker Danny Levi has been named as 19th man in the only specialist hooker cover.
There are two uncapped players in the 18-man squad – Penrith winger Dallin Watene-Zelezniak and Parramatta second rower Manu Ma’u.
Watene-Zelezniak, 20, will hope it’s third time lucky after being named in Kiwi squads twice previously.
The great grandson of New Zealand rugby league great Steve Watene was denied a starting spot by injury in 2014 and suspension last year. He also missed the 2015 England tour with a collapsed lung.
Kearney says the time is right to promote classy 17-Test forward Bromwich to a leadership role.
“You just need to look at Jesse’s performances over the past two years, when he’s elevated himself to one of the premier front rowers in our game and at international level,” Kearney said.
“We certainly saw that in England, where Adam Blair and Issac Luke were our captains, but Jesse was part of the leadership group and really stepped up to the plate.”
Halfback Shaun Johnson, who missed the England tour with injury, is the only Warriors player in the 18-man squad following the axing of Luke and omission of prop Ben Matulino and winger Manu Vatuvei for a breach of the club’s protocols.
Matulino and Vatuvei started last year’s equivalent Test in Brisbane, which the Kiwis won 26-12, part of a current three-match streak against the Kangaroos.
Other leading lights are missing from that game include injured Warriors Mannering and Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, along with world-class five-eighth Kieran Foran, for personal reasons. Penrith centre Dean Whare is another notable absentee with a season-ending knee injury.
Foran’s berth is likely to be filled by Hiku, as he did in England.
North Queensland wrecking ball Jason Taumalolo makes a welcome return after missing all of the 2015 Tests and forms part of a proven pack built around Bromwich, Blair, Tohu Harris, Kevin Proctor, Martin Taupau and Sam Moa.
New Zealand squad: Adam Blair, Jesse Bromwich (capt), Lewis Brown, Greg Eastwood, Alex Glenn, Tohu Harris, Peta Hiku, Shaun Johnson, Jordan Kahu, Shaun Kenny-Dowall, Manu Ma’u, Sam Moa, Jason Nightingale, Kodi Nikorima, Kevin Proctor, Jason Taumalolo, Martin Taupau, Dallin Watene-Zelezniak. Danny Levi (19th man).
BIG NAMES MISSING FOR THE KIWIS:
* Roger Tuivasa-Sheck (knee – season)
* Manu Vatuvei (Warriors breach)
* Dean Whare (knee – season)
* Kieran Foran (personal issue)
* Te Maire Martin (shoulder – season)
* Tuimoala Lolohea (knee – 2 weeks)
* Simon Mannering (face – 2 weeks)
* Ben Matulino (Warriors breach)
* Issac Luke (dropped)