Albert Vete - Saint Kentigern College (Auckland)
This feels like a pivotal year for Vete as he looks to establish himself as a consistent NRL middle forward. In patches, Vete showcased his robust running and offloading, which could work well in conjunction with Nelson Asofa-Solomona and now Sam Kasiano's departure could open a spot up for Vete. There is a fair amount of middle forward depth at the Storm though and Vete will need to impress to hold his spot.
Brandon Smith - Waiheke Rams (Auckland)
Everyone loves a bit of Brandon Smith and with Game of Thrones returning to our lives, young Brandon feels a bit like Brandon Stark; Cameron Smith is Bloodraven and Bran's learning. There was a bit of a kerfuffle when Cameron Smith's new contract was being discussed, all of which felt overly dramatic and the reason Bran has looked so impressive with Cameron still in the team is thanks to his ability to play as a straight up middle forward. Think of Jazz Tevaga for the Warriors, just with a twist as Bran is excessively powerful. Bran will get minutes at hooker though, as Cameron will slide out to first-receiver to help the young halves and the ability to switch between roles is a sign of Bran's quality.
Jahrome Hughes - Harbour City Eagles (Wellington)
Unfortunately for Scott Drinkwater, he's out for the first stanza of the season and this glorious slice of luck should allow Hughes to play fullback. Prior to that I was a bit focused as to where Hughes was going to get his chance, all good though as the stars have aligned. Look for Hughes to go nek level after spending time in the Aotearoa Kiwis squad.
Jesse Bromwich - Manurewa Marlins (Auckland)
The best forward from Aotearoa and perhaps the future captain of Melbourne Storm. Every season, Jesse gets a bit better and takes another step to low key legendary status, towards high key legendary status.
Kenny Bromwich - Manurewa Marlins (Auckland)
Where Kenny plays will be an interesting narrative throughout the season as he does a nice job on an edge and through the middle. Much will depend on the health of Felise Kaufusi and Joe Stimson, who if playing will likely lead to Kenny playing through the middle and then Kenny can plug a hole when required.
Nelson Asofa-Solomona - Upper Hutt Tigers (Wellington)
Aotearoa Kiwis fans are yet to be treated to seeing Jesse and this upgraded version Nasty NAS operating together in the black and white jersey. Keep that in mind when pondering the Kiwis as each season has seen Asofa-Solomona develop a new wrinkle to his game and a rise to a new level of performance. Keep an eye of Asofa-Solomona drifting out to the edges, playing either as an edge forward or merely taking his carries out on the edges as this has been hinted at over the last season and a bit.
James Gavet - Richmond Bulldogs (Auckland)
Gavet's move from Aotearoa Warriors to Newcastle Knights seemed to be rooted in opportunity; decreasing at Warriors, increasing at Knights. All signs point to Gavet starting through the middle and his rugged style will boost the Knights forward pack, leading to plenty of intrigue as to how he performs throughout the season.
Shaun Kenny-Dowall - Ngaruawahia Panthers (Waikato)
Veteran status for Kenny-Dowall, who will be eager to stack up another solid NRL season. Likely to start on the wing and go about his business without fuss.
Slade Griffin - Cobden-Kohinoor Keas (Greymouth)
Won't be in action to start the season as he recovers from yet another knee injury and it'll be prayer hands emoji hoping that Griffin does make a return to the Knights top-17 ... then stays healthy. Griffin quickly slotted into the starting hooker role upon arriving at Newcastle, earning a Kiwis jersey in the process and the Greymouth geezer is still a high-ceiling Kiwis trooper.
Danny Levi - Randwick Kingfishers (Wellington)
Benefiting from Griffin's injury last season was Levi and as there has been plenty of noise around Levi's future with the Knights since Griffin arrived, Levi would be wise to take his opportunity swiftly. Also on the line in the opening rounds, is Levi's mid-term future with Aotearoa Kiwis as he's already been overtaken by Bran Smith. There is no shortage of #KiwiNRL dummy half depth either and Levi is yet to establish any Kiwis foundations.
Herman Ese'ese - Mangere East Hawks (Auckland)
A monster. Ese'ese racks up big numbers, the type of numbers that the upper echelon middle forwards put up but as Ese'ese isn't a sexy character or on a winning team, they are overlooked. Not here, not with the #KiwiNRL Encyclopedia and I'm predicting another impressive season for a guy who is way younger than you initially think - 24yrs with 54 games.
Mason Lino - Marist Saints (Auckland)
Despite making the move to Newcastle for greater opportunities like Gavet, Lino will probably struggle for game time this season. Lino is nothing more than halves depth right now and he'll need injury, suspension or poor form to fall in his favour. Otherwise Lino will again be stuck in NRL no man's land.
New Zealand Warriors
All but Adam Keighran, Jackson Frei, Karl Lawton, Blake Green, Lachlan Burr, Blake Ayshford,
That's six of the Warriors top-30 who are Australian, leaving 24 #KiwiNRL players from all around Aotearoa at Mt Smart. I'll do a special #KiwiNRL Encyclopedia for the Warriors this week, so watch out for that.
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Peace and love 27.