1 - Storm
Not a huge kiwi crew, but in typical Storm fashion they have kiwis of the highest quality. The Storm are at their best playing quickly through the middle, peppering the ruck area and that comes via their #KiwiNRL forwards. Tohu Harris has made a convenient return from injury, the bench duo of Kenny Bromwich and Nelson Asofa-Solomona have been perfecting their yin-yang bench x-factor roles. Let's not forget that Jesse Bromwich has got back to his consistently awesome best after the coco dramas earlier in the year.
Jesse Bromwich - South Auckland.
Tohu Harris - Hastings.
Kenny Bromwich - South Auckland.
Nelson Asofa-Solomona - Wellington.
2 - Broncos
Maybe a few weeks ago, the Broncos would have been a spot or two down the rankings. Right now though they have Kodi Nikorima and Benji Marshall in key play-making positions, no other team has a fullback and a #KiwiNRL halfback. Jordan Kahu's goal-kicking becomes more important in Finals footy as well, while the Broncos can only play high-tempo razzle dazzle footy thanks to the efforts of their forward pack where Adam Blair and Alex Glenn hold things down.
Jordan Kahu - Wellington.
Kodi Nikorima - Manawatu.
Benji Marshall - Whakatane.
Adam Blair - Northland.
Alex Glenn - Auckland.
Herman Ese'ese - South Auckland.
3 - Cowboys
All of this centres around Jason Taumalolo - yes Taumalolo is that good. So influential to the Cowboys is Taumalolo that you'd be wise to only focus on the South Aucklander, however the presence of Te Maire Martin in the halves adds a bonus #KiwiNRL wrinkle. When Antonio Winterstein comes off his wing to get busy, he's all energy and is a powerful runner.
Antonio Winterstein - Auckland.
Te Maire Martin - Waikato.
Jason Taumalolo - South Auckland.
4 - Panthers
Penrith Panthers aren't the best team in the Finals, they aren't reall close either. They do however have a funky group of kiwis, even after they showed a few the door throughout the season (Peta Hiku, Zach Dockar-Clay, Te Maire Martin). Giving them a boost up the rankings is Dean Whare, who returns at fullback, not his usual centre and he'll join Dallin Watene-Zelezniak out wide. Corey Harawira-Naera has enjoyed a nice debut season and another young Northlander James Fisher-Harris will pop up off the bench, along with Sione Katoa.
Dean Whare - Rotorua.
Dallin Watene-Zelezniak - Waikato.
Corey Harawira-Naera - Northland.
Sione Katoa - Wellington.
James Fisher-Harris - Northland.
5 - Roosters
The Chooks have enjoyed a strong year, led by Jared Waerea-Hargreaves who has made an intriguing case for RLWC selection and Issac Liu has been just as consistent as hiss mentor. Sio Siua Taukeiaho has also settled into a bench role late in the season after being in and out via injury, while Joseph Manu effectively forced the Roosters to let go of Shaun Kenny-Dowall. Not a huge #KiwiNRL group but there's impressive low key quality.
Joseph Manu - Waikato.
Jared Waerea-Hargreaves - Rotorua.
Issac Liu - South Auckland.
Sio Siua Taukeiaho - South Auckland.
6 - Eels
Parramatta have plenty of hype around them, as you'd expect from such a club in Sydney, there's a lack of #KiwiNRL players in influential positions that keeps them low in the rankings. The Eels do have a large crew though, with Brad Takairangi and Kirisome Auva'a out in the backs, Manu Ma'u starting on an edge and the Kenny Edwards/Suaia Matagi adding oomph off the bench.
Brad Takairangi - Australia.
Kirisome Auva'a - South Auckland.
Manu Ma'u - Auckland.
Kenny Edwards - Manawatu.
Suaia Matagi - Auckland.
7 - Sea Eagles
Manly don't have the depth or influential kiwis, Martin Taupau is as good a NRL forward as any and is borderline, almost as good as Taumalolo. Lewis Brown and Addin Fonua-Blake will come off the bench as well; shout out to Brown for consistently doing whatever job Trent Barrett requires, can't go wrong with some love for the utility lads.
Martin Taupau - Auckland.
Lewis Brown - Christchurch.
Addin Fonua-Blake - Australia.
8 - Sharks
During the season Cronulla have flirted with relying on their kiwis, come Finals time though they strip it back and roll out their 'best' team - no Fa'amanu Brown, Sam Tagataese. That means that there's only space for Sosaia Feki and Gerard Beale in the backline, both are solid job-doers. Nothing spectacular from these two, just execution.
Sosaia Feki - Auckland.
Gerard Beale - Australia.
Tautau Moga (Broncos), Herman Ese'ese (Broncos), Isaac Liu (Roosters), Josh McGuire (Broncos), Anthony Milford (Broncos), Kirisome Auva'a (Eels), Suaia Matagi (Eels), Antonio Winterstein (Cowboys), John Asiata (Cowboys), Mathew Wright (Sea Eagles), Ricky Leutele (Sharks).
Joe Ofahengaue (Broncos), Michael Jennings (Eels), Siosaia Vave (Eels), Felise Kaufusi (Storm), Sione Katoa (Panthers), Addin Fonua-Blake (Sea Eagles), Sosaia Feki (Sharks)
#KiwiNRL RLWC Context
David Kidwell has stated that Benji Marshall is not in his World Cup plans, although a super impressive, composed Finals run from Benji could change Kidwell's mind. I've explored this situation in-depth ever since Kidwell ruled Benji out and there's no one else I'd want to step in for a World Cup semi/final besides Benji. Even then he'd be great to have in camp, guiding the squad and sharing his mana.
Jared Waerea-Hargreaves has also been out of favour with the Kiwis over the past few years, with Jesse Bromwich not available for selection though there's an opening for Waerea-Hargreaves. He's got a habit of saving dominant performances for big games and Kidwell is likely to be keeping close tabs on Waerea-Hargreaves, especially with Martin Taupau lurking as a possible starting option.
Just from this #KiwiNRL Finals group, I'm struggling to come up with a bench thanks to the plethora of options. A bench of Taukeiaho, Taupau, Asofa-Solomona and Kenny Bromwich is my ideal (Taupau and Waerea-Hargreaves are interchangeable), then I've got to sneak Kodi Nikorima in as well. Those five would be my first choice bench options, although Ma'u, Glenn etc aren't too far behind.
Kidwell feels some sort of way about Benji because we do have the likes of Nikorima and Martin who are impressive young halves - I'd just prefer Benji's experience in a semi/final. If Kidwell is hating on Benji to that extent, then it becomes a battle between Nikorima and Martin for the back up halves spot and both will be in the spotlight during the #KiwiNRL Finals.
Aotearoa also has a bunch of wingers who are competing to start come World Cup time and two of them will be going HAM in the finals; Jordan Kahu and Dallin Watene-Zelezniak. The abundance of wingers could mean that Kahu becomes a centre as we only really have Dean Whare who is a certified international centre. If Kahu and Watene-Zelezniak demand both Kiwis wing spots through glorious Finals form, then Brad Takairangi could emerge as a centre option alongside Whare.
Peace and love 27.
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