NRL Finals have finally come around, popping up to save us from the plodding regular season which honestly feels like it's a wee bit too long. Although this season has seen a couple of teams neglect their #KiwiNRL influence, Finals week one is jam-packed with #KiwiNRL talent to the point where I can name a team of 17 with a few extras to highlight the #KiwiNRL presence in NRL footy.
In sticking to a team of 17, there are a few extras who would in theory be part of the #KiwiNRL Finals Week Tahi Squad. Not quite able to crack the 17, these lads have all made nifty contributions to their respective teams and deserve a mention, with their exclusion based around the immense depth on offer. That means it's less about anything that Marata Niukore, Brad Takairangi, Manu Ma'u (Eels) and Bailey Simonsson (Raiders) did wrong, there is simply too much talent to squeeze in.
Fullback: Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad.
Wings: Jamayne Isaako, Jordan Rapana.
Centres: Joseph Manu, Alex Glenn.
Halves: Shaun Johnson, Dylan Brown.
Middles: Jesse Bromwich, Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, Isaac Liu.
Edges: Kenny Bromwich, Briton Nikora.
Hooker: Brandon Smith.
Bench: Jahrome Hughes, Nelson Asofa-Solomona, Sio Siua Taukeiaho, Braden Hamlin-Uele.
18th Man: Joseph Tapine.
Fullback was a fairly easy choice given that Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad is the only #KiwiNRL fullback named for this weekend's action and Nicoll-Klokstand has been fantastic for the Raiders since joining them in the pre-season. There were no promises made to Nicoll-Klokstad about getting game time with the Raiders, everything was earned on the training field and then game time. Jahrome Hughes has played plenty of fullback for Melbourne Storm this season and could also be a fullback option, but that utility value has Hughes as the perfect bloke for the bench.
Jamayne Isaako endured a niggly start/middle of the season, yet the Christchurch product has bounced back strongly to play 21 games for the Broncos this season. Joining Isaako as the starting wingers is Jordan Rapana, who hasn't quite been as dominant as I'd like him to be for the Raiders but his consistency and experience gets him the nod.
No dramas with Joseph Manu at centre as he is one of the best in the game and offers the Roosters balance in which edge they attack down. Broncos centre Alex Glenn has made what looks to be a permanent shift from edge forward, even middle forward, to the centres under coach Anthony Seibold and there wasn't too much competition for the other centre spot in this squad other than Takairangi being an option. Glenn is a powerful runner with nice mobility and simply does his job for the team.
Sharks half Shaun Johnson is partnered by Eels youngster Dylan Brown, which aligns nicely given that Johnson operates on the right edge for Cronulla and Brown on the left for Parramatta. Both are dynamic runners of the footy with a variety of skills and they will play key roles for their respective teams in trying to get a Finals win this weekend.
Kiwis veterans Jesse Bromwich and Jared Waerea-Hargreaves start in the middle. These two don't get the praise they deserve for how they lead the way through the middle for their respective teams and it's no coincidence that Storm and Roosters enjoy success with two physical, yet funky big boppers. I've given the other starting middle job to Roosters forward Isaac Liu, who has played 21 games for the Roosters this season, 18 of which have come starting at prop or lock.
If I'm saying that the influence of Bromwich and Waerea-Hargreaves could be under-stated, the Liu is an underground king. The Otahuhu Leopards junior thrives in the Roosters forward pack and while always being a steady forward, his continual improvement is a reflection of how the Roosters develop players.
Out on the edges, I've stuck with Kiwis edge forwards Kenny Bromwich and Briton Nikora. Kenny has played all 24 of his games as an edge forward this season, finally getting a chance to nail down one position after giving coach Craig Bellamy excellent service in plugging holes where required prior to this year. Kenny is a powerful runner, yet his footwork and subtle skills shine with the Storm, while Nikora's game on the right edge for Cronulla is all about his running ability; hitting holes, footwork and athleticism.
Brandon Smith starts at hooker despite playing as a middle forward this season for the Storm. When the Kiwis prepare for their spring internationals, Smith will again slot into hooker for Aotearoa and this is a fabulous sign of his abilities not only as a baller who has the ability to play multiple positions at an extremely high level, but as a bloke who does what the Storm needs and can then mentally step up to play as a dummy half. In that regard, Smith along with the other Storm and Roosters players, are exactly the type of people that these clubs want and thus it is reflected in their personal and team success.
On the bench, it's a group of monsters. Nelson Asofa-Solomona (Storm), Sio Siua Taukeiaho (Roosters) and Braden Hamlin-Uele (Sharks). Asofa-Solomona and Taukeiaho pick themselves and they are among the best middle forwards in the NRL, for the two best teams, while I have rolled with Hamlin-Uele over Joseph Tapine for that last bench spot.
Not only has Glenora Bears junior Hamlin-Uele had consistency efficient impact off the bench for the Sharks, he has played 20 games this season and averages 36mins per game. Tapine on the other hand has only played 14 games. Although I'm super eager to see Tapine remind everyone what makes him a low key beast for Canberra, when splitting Hamlin-Uele and Tapine, game time was the key factor.
To offer a different perspective on the #KiwiNRL whanau in Finals week one, I've sussed out the regions in Aotearoa where these players are from.
Auckland (wider area): Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad, Alex Glenn, Shaun Johnson, Jesse Bromwich, Kenny Bromwich, Isaac Liu, Brandon Smith, Sio Siua Taukeiaho, Braden Hamlin-Uele.
Northland: Dylan Brown.
Waikato/BOP: Joseph Manu, Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, Briton Nikora.
Wellington: Jordan Rapana, Nelson Asofa-Solomona, Joseph Tapine, Jahrome Hughes.
Canterbury: Jamayne Isaako.
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Peace and love 27.