The third and final State of Origin game is upon us and that means, it's time to unleash Team Aotearoa. I named Team Tamaki Makaurau for Origin game one, so go check out Team Tamaki Makaurau to see which team you prefer and who you reckon would be more ruthless.
As this is the third annual Battle of Aotearoa, below are the two previous versions of Team Aotearoa. There is plenty of change throughout the three years and the beautiful thing about Team Aotearoa is that NRL clubs are doing a fantastic job of sussing out talent all around Aotearoa, meaning that the depth and young wave coming through from outside Auckland is pretty damn impressive.
Fullback: Jordan Kahu.
Wings: Jordan Rapana, Dallin Watene-Zelezniak.
Centres: Dean Whare, Joseph Manu.
Halves: Fa'amanu Brown, Benji Marshall.
Middles: Adam Blair, Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, Simon Mannering.
Hooker: Issac Luke.
Edges: Tohu Harris, Kevin Proctor.
Bench: Kodi Nikorima, Joseph Tapine, Nelson Asofa-Solomona, Russell Packer.
Fullback: Dallin Watene-Zelezniak.
Wings: Jordan Rapana, Jamayne Isaako.
Centres: Jordan Kahu, Dean Whare.
Halves: Benji Marshall, Te Maire Martin.
Middles: Nelson Asofa-Solomona, Adam Blair, Russell Packer.
Hooker: Issac Luke.
Edges: Tohu Harris, Joseph Tapine.
Bench: Kodi Nikorima, Simon Mannering, James Fisher-Harris, Ben Matulino.
Fullback: Jahrome Hughes.
Wings: Dallin Watene-Zelezniak, Jordan Rapana.
Centres: Joseph Manu, Jordan Kahu.
Halves: Benji Marshall, Kodi Nikorima.
Middles: Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, Nelson Asofa-Solomona, Adam Blair.
Hooker: Issac Luke.
Edges: Tohu Harris, Briton Nikora.
Bench: Danny Levi, Joseph Tapine, James Fisher-Harris, Moeaki Fotuaika.
Here is a break down of where these players come from around Aotearoa...
Wellington: Hughes, Rapana, Kahu, Asofa-Solomona, Levi, Tapine.
Waikato/BOP: Watene-Zelezniak, Marshall, Waerea-Hargreaves, Nikora.
Northland: Blair, Fisher-Harris.
There aren't too many players from the South Island, which isn't to say that there is no NRL talent from the South Island. Instead, we're kinda waiting for that South Island talent to wiggle through to consistent NRL footy and guys like Slade Griffin have battled injury, while others like Fa'amanu Brown haven't quite kicked on. My prediction is that within a few years, there will be plenty of South Islanders hitting levels in the NRL as clubs have recruited heavily from the South Island and these players are serving time in reserve grade/U20s.
Here's a minor group of South Island prospects to note down:
Rory Ferguson (Southland - Broncos), Jordan Riki (Canterbury - Broncos), Joseph Taipari (Canterbury - Eels), Cruz Topai-Aveai (Canterbury - Sharks).
Moeaki Fotuaika's form is irresistible in 2019 and he's quickly established himself as a dominant presence in the Gold Coast Titans forward pack. Such consistency and efficiency in his work has Fotuaika ahead of forwards such as Corey Harawira-Naera (Northland), along with the emergence of Briton Nikora who has over-taken Harawira-Naera in the edge forward ranks for Aotearoa.
Jamayne Isaako (Canterbury) hasn't been playing enough, or well enough to surpass either Dallin Watene-Zelezniak or Jordan Rapana, but is definitely in the mix. Shaun Kenny-Dowall feels like he's ahead of Isaako though, based on consistent output for the Knights and then there is someone like Mawene Hiroti (Taranaki) who is an intriguing prospect for the Rabbitohs.
Patrick Herbert (Whakatane) and Peta Hiku (Gisbourne) are both options at centre or the outside back roles, while Northland's Caleb Aekins has looked at ease in NRL footy for Penrith Panthers but hasn't quite got the opportunities this year. Another Northlander Dylan Brown offers halves depth and is almost mandatory viewing for #KiwiNRL fans as he settles into his role with Parramatta Eels. The halves depth is boosted by the presence of Te Maire Martin (Waikato) who has missed much of this season through injury and while he needs to re-establish himself in the NRL, Martin is another joker to keep tabs on.
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Peace and love 27.