A re-vamped Junior Kiwis wider squad was named last week, then trimmed down to a squad-squad for their upcoming fixture against Australian Schoolboys. There are a few weird aspects to this game, that differ from the traditional Junior Kiwis fixture vs Junior Kangaroos and while I'd prefer to keep this game how it was (annual Under 20s), ultimately the basic premise is still the same; Aotearoa's best young talent is on display.
As they will face the Aussie Schoolboys, this Junior Kiwis group is Under 19. That's notable because this year's squad excludes those players who are still eligible for Jersey Flegg (NSW)/Hasting Deering Colts (QLD) which are U20s competitions, or more notably players who are playing reserve grade despite being U20s eligible. I find this important because when pondering this U19 Junior Kiwis crew, folks need to remember that there is a hefty wrinkle of young rugby league talent that people may not know about because they haven't quite cracked NRL footy and are now too old for U19 Junior Kiwis.
An example of this is how Jordan Riki is the only player from last year's U20s Junior Kiwis who is named in this year's U19 squad. First and foremost, that's a blatant sign of Riki's quality and with that in mind; Riki has played 16 games for Norths Devils in Queensland's Intrust Super Cup (reserve grade). Riki made the U20s Junior Kiwis while being at the younger end of eligibility (18yrs) and now he has made U19 JK while playing most of the season in reserve grade, hence he is a name that #KiwiNRL fans should note down as a Brisbane Broncos prospect.
This shows the player turnover from the two JK squads and that's funky because the depth of Aoteaora's rugby league is on full display. With Riki the only common factor, Aotearoa has found a 16-18 other players who are doing rugby league things at a high level. As I will explore in my annual 'Meet The Junior Kiwis' yarn, many of this players have come through various NZRL rep teams to highlight the development pathway that has been established.
While Hayze Perham, Morgan Harper, Mawene Hiroti, Chanel Harris-Tavita, Isaiah Papali'i and Peter Hola have all dabbled in NRL footy from last year's JK squad, the likes of Tom Ale, Sean Mullany and Kelma Tuilagi played a bunch of Jersey Flegg footy this year. Ale, Mullany and Tuilagi would have still been eligible for U20s JK, but the age-change rules them out and those three are nice examples of players out of the casual fan's spotlight.
The Meet The Junior Kiwis thing will break down every player named in the final squad, so now I'm going to zone in on a few players who were named in the wider squad but didn't make the final squad. The other niggly aspect of this fixture is that it will be played on Sunday, September 29th and that is the same day as Jersey Flegg and Hasting Deering Colts grand finals. Let me dice that differently; the Junior Kiwis will play on the same day as Queensland and New South Wales' Under 20s grand finals.
That feels a bit silly, right? Take Christian Tuipulotu for example, who was an immensely decorated prospect coming out of Aotearoa and was lured across to Sydney Roosters (from NZ Warriors) after finishing school at St Paul's College. Having been named Domestic U16 Player of the Year for 2017, Tuipulotu made the 2017 and 2018 National Secondary Schools Tournament Team, then last year he was also in Aotearoa Residents U18.
Tuipulotu has played all season for Roosters Jersey Flegg, who are preparing for their semi-final this weekend and Tuipulotu is again named at centre. I'm fairly confident that Tuipulotu would have made this JK squad if the scheduling wasn't so silly. Then again, Mathew Timoko was named in this JK squad but has also been named at centre for Canberra Raiders Jersey Flegg - who are playing Roosters. One would assume that if the Raiders defeat the Roosters in this game, Timoko would pull out of JK camp to prepare for the Flegg grand final.
Valance Harris, Shalom O'ofou, Simi Sasagi, Ioane Seiuli, Bayleigh Bentley-Hape and Dylan Brown were the others from the wider squad who didn't make the final cut. Brown is obviously playing NRL Finals and the others missed out, although someone like Ioane Seiuli deserves a mention as he's obviously U19s eligible, but has played 24 games for Tweed Heads Seagulls in Queensland's reserve grade.
Also in that bracket is Bayleigh Bentley-Hape, who hasn't been named in recent Roosters Flegg teams which leads me to believe he's injured at the moment. Bentley-Hape captained that Roosters Flegg team, either from fullback or wing and that is a sign of his standing as Roosters prospect and like Tuipulotu, it feels as though Bentley-Hape would have made it if available. Hailing from Kawakawa, Northland, the Roosters snapped up Bentley-Hape to play Harold Mathews (U16) and SG Ball (U18) before moving to Jersey Flegg.
This is just setting the scene for the 2019 Junior Kiwis and next week, to prepare for the encounter vs Australian Schoolboys, I will jam more in depth run-through for each player in this Junior Kiwis squad. What the transition from wider squad to squad-squad shows, is that Aotearoa rugby league is still going strong beneath the surface and there is no shortage of quality prospects coming through. I'll leave you with a breakdown of 2019 Junior Kiwis who made recent Aotearoa rep teams...
2017 National Secondary Schools Tournament Team
Selestino Ravuataumada, Starford To'a, Sione Moala, Jordan Riki.
2017 Aotearoa U18 Select
Emanuel Tuimavave-Gerrard, Bayleigh Bentley-Hape, Kayal Iro.
2017 Aotearoa U18
Mathew Timoko, Jordan Riki, Tyler Slade.
2018 National Secondary Schools Tournament Team
Selestino Ravuataumada, Sione Moala, Junior Pu'a.
2018 Aotearoa Residents U18
Kayal Iro, Emanuel Tuimavave-Gerrard, Junior Pu'a, Paul Turner, Temple Kalepo, Tyler Slade.
2019 Aotearoa Residents U18
Temple Kalepo, Sione Moala.
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