#KiwiNRL Battle of Aotearoa: Team Tamaki Makaurau

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When State of Origin rolls around each year, my brain immediately flips into Battle of Aotearoa mode and the need for an annual fixture like this for men and women. Aotearoa has more than enough talent to make this happen and it's my job to outline the depth on offer, serving up a splash of intrigue as to what a low key awesome concept this would be.

This year, the third annual team naming for Battle of Aotearoa, comes with a dash of context as the growth of women's rugby league and thus Women's State of Origin has understandably shut any non-Aussies out. Last year Aotearoa had Maitua Feterika and Rona Peters in Queensland, while Nita Maynard played for New South Wales with Feterika and Maynard going on to represent Aotearoa's Kiwi Ferns later in 2018. Peters is a Kiwi Ferns veteran and moved to Queensland after retiring from international footy.

That is to say that with this avenue now closed, there is a huge need for more fixtures and initiatives for women's rugby league in Aotearoa. I'd roll with a similar concept and deliver women's and men's Battle of Aotearoa games on the same, just give me some time to sharpen up my research and I'll drop a few women's squads in the coming weeks.

For now, it's Team Tamaki Makaurau. The idea is that this team consists of players who were born in Auckland (greater Auckland) or played the bulk of their junior footy in Auckland and both Team Tamaki Makaurau and Team Aotearoa welcome the services of those Samoans and Tongans who are eligible. The point is to have a rugby league contest that best reflects rugby league in Aotearoa and not only would the talent of those Auckland-bred Tongans up the level of footy, it's an acknowledgement of their service to rugby league in Aotearoa and the Pacific Islands.

Here are the two previous versions of Team Tamaki Makaurau...

2017

Fullback: Roger Tuivasa-Sheck.

Wings: Sosaia Feki, David Fusitu'a.

Centres: Konrad Hurrell, Solomone Kata.

Halves: Shaun Johnson, Kieran Foran.

Middles: Jesse Bromwich, Martin Taupau, Jason Taumalolo, Kenny Bromwich.

Edges: Greg Eastwood, Manu Ma'u.

Bench: Suaia Matagi, Sio Siua Taukeiaho, Alex Glenn, Sam Kasiano.

2018

Fullback: Roger Tuivasa-Sheck.

Wings: David Fusitu'a, Ken Maumalo.

Centres: Esan Marsters, Solomone Kata.

Halves: Shaun Johnson, Kieran Foran.

Middles: Jesse Bromwich, Martin Taupau, Jason Taumalolo, Siliva Havili.

Edges: Alex Glenn, Manu Ma'u.

Bench: Brandon Smith, Kenny Bromwich, Sio Siua Taukeiaho, Leeson Ah Mau.

Here is Team Tamaki Makaurau for 2019...

Fullback: Roger Tuivasa-Sheck.

Wings: David Fusitu'a, Ken Maumalo.

Centres: Esan Marsters, Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad.

Halves: Shaun Johnson, Kieran Foran.

Middles: Jesse Browmich, Jason Taumalolo, Sio Siua Taukeiaho.

Hooker: Brandon Smith.

Edges: Isaac Liu, Isaiah Papali'i.

Bench: Kenny Bromwich, Leeson Ah Mau, Martin Taupau, Agnatius Paasi.

Unluggy

Here is a group who came into contention, but didn't quite make the final 17 and will be brought into camp to catch the vibe and acquaint themselves with Team Tamaki Makaurau's style of play...

Marata Niukore (edge), Siliva Havili (hooker), Josh Aloiai (middle), Braden Hamlin-Uele (middle), Herman Ese'ese (middle), Bunty Afoa (middle), Sosaia Feki (wing).

The major inclusion this year is Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad, who demanded selection via his fantastic start to the season at fullback for Canberra Raiders. Nicoll-Klokstad won't get a gig ahead of Tuivasa-Sheck at fullback, however he has played a lot of centre in the lower grades and with Solomone Kata struggling to get NRL minutes, let alone rack up slick performances, Nicoll-Klokstad is deserving of his selection.

Edge forward was a nightmare to select and I had to make a broad decision to usher in the young wave, as a slight re-fresher to Team Tamaki Makaurau. This isn't to say that the likes of Alex Glenn and Manu Ma'u are past the point of selection, but their early season form has been up and down with their respective teams, which had me exploring other options. Team Tamaki Makaurau has a super settled core group and with that support system and culture in place, now is a nice time to give the younger lads a crack in the forward pack.

Isaac Liu had to be in the 17 somewhere and with a powerful bench, along with a history of dabbling in playing on an edge, I've comfortable in giving this job to Liu - one of the most dependable players each week in the NRL. Given how stacked the middle ranks are, as long as Liu is playing well enough, this could be a long-term spot for him and the same goes for Isaiah Papali'i. I was tempted to give Marata Niukore a role, although Niukore needs to more consistent game time and performances to squeeze in ahead of the veterans, let alone Papali'i and Liu.

The bench is always going to be contentious and personal opinion generating debate is what this concept needs to spark up some hype. Kenny Bromwich offers versatility and while I would select Kenny ahead of Jazz Tevaga regardless, I'm not sure which team Tevaga wants to be eligible for considering he started out his life journey in Christchurch and then moved up to Auckland where he played for Papakura Sea Eagles. Senor Tevaga, if you become aware of this, let us know whether you are Team Tamaki Makaurau or Team Aotearoa.

Martin Taupau could have started and is a core element of Team Makaurau, but I had to wiggle him on to the bench. Leeson Ah Mau offers a different dynamic with a more steady approach that is still heavily reliant on footwork, while Agnatius Paasi is the injection of energy around half-time to shake things up.

Here is a geographic break down of whether these players come from (other than Martin Taupau, I dunno where he's from)...

South Auckland

Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, Ken Maumalo, Jesse Bromwich, Jason Taumalolo, Sio Siua Taukeiaho, Isaac Liu, Kenny Bromwich, Leeson Ah Mau, Agnatius Paasi.

Central/East Auckland

Esan Marsters, Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad, Kieran Foran.

West Auckland

David Fusitu'a, Isaiah Papali'i.

Greater Auckland

Shaun Johnson, Brandon Smith.

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Peace and love 27.