All Stars weekend and NRL trials mean that the NRL season is fast approaching, yet the World Club Challenge is where we'll get the funkiest #KiwiNRL insight this weekend. With all due respect to the Maori All Stars teams, there's little insight to gain in terms of #KiwiNRL context other than the need for kiwis to see their Maori All Stars teams play in Aotearoa. Mad respect the All Stars games, less respect to the trials because they're just trials and are over-hyped every year.
Zoning in on the World Club Challenge perked my antenna because of the strong #KiwiNRL contingent in the Roosters squad. Obviously I'm not overly fussed with what Wigan Warriors serve up in their squad, but in this Roosters squad of 23, there are eight #KiwiNRL players and there's a couple lads who could step into more consistent NRL minutes this season.
All the main jokers are there from the Roosters Championship team; Isaac Liu, Joseph Manu, Sio Siua Taukeiaho, Zane Tetevano and Jared Waerea-Hargreaves. These lads will again play key roles in the Roosters top-17 this year and while we know that Manu will operate at centre, with Taukeiaho, Tetevano and Waerea-Hargreaves through the middle, the funkiest guy here is Liu and whether he plays edge or midde.
The emergence of Victor Radley pushed Liu out to the the edge last season, but the Roosters went and signed Angus Crichton to join Boyd Cordner as their leading edge forwards. Liu is a low key monster deserving on a top-17 spot, with nimble footwork he slide back into the middle to compliment Taukeiaho's mobility - especially with Dylan Napa's departure leaving middle minutes up for grabs.
Many sleep on the Roosters as a #KiwiNRL pamu (farm) and depite a lot of their current #KiwiNRL talent being signed from elsewhere (Taukeiaho, Tetevano, Waerea-Hargreaves), the Roosters developed Liu and Manu from within. This year we could see this go to a nek level as Marist Saints (Auckland) junior Sitili Tupouniua and Glenora Bears (Auckland) junior Poasa Faamausili will be hunting for more game time after debuting last season.
Tupouniua can play edge and middle, while Faamausili sticks to the middle. Joining them in the WCC squad is Asu Kepaoa who featured at centre for the Roosters SG Ball team last year and SG Ball is Under 18, so Kepaoa is sliding straight from U18 into the WCC squad. Kepaoa was in the Aotearoa Residents U18 squad in 2017 (along with other notable #KiwiNRL prospects Hayze Perham, Jordan Riki, Tyler Slade, Starford Toa, Chanel Harris-Tavita and Paul Turner) and then appeared to be snapped up by the Chooks.
It's a bit tricky nailing down Kepaoa's junior clubs as it looks as though he came up through Ellerslie Eagles, then Richmond Rovers. He made the Residents U18 team from Counties though, so not sure how that works and Kepaoa went through Sacred Heart College. Don't expect any NRL chances this year for Kepaoa as the Roosters signed Brett Morris and Ryan Hall to bolster their outside back department, which when combined with Manu, Latrell Mitchell and Daniel Tupou leaves their buckie full.
Kepaoa is clearly a prospect though and selection the Roosters WCC squad puts him on the radar. I doubt he'll get game time over in England, but Kepaoa will benefit from the experience and hopefully we see Tupouniua and/or Faamausili join the main crew on the field vs Wigan.
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Peace and love 27.