The New Zealand Rugby League hope to turn the NRL Grand Final
weekend into a football fiesta, with an annual Kiwis match
preceding the Grand Final.
As a solution to the perennial battle for more games for the
Kiwis - and to try to dilute the Australian advantage gleaned
from established State of Origin combinations - the NZRL plan
to stage a test match on the Saturday of Australasian
league's biggest weekend.
The game, to be played against Samoa, Tonga, the Cook Islands
or Papua New Guinea, will likely be held in New Zealand.
Despite the plethora of Samoan and Tongan players within the
New Zealand league scene, the Kiwis have only met Tonga on
four occasions and Samoa just once - before the 2008 World
Papua New Guinea was the regular opponent in the 1980s (the
Kiwis and the Kumuls met on seven occasions across the
decade) but much less so since then, with only two clashes in
the last 15 years and none between 1997 and 2008.
The New Zealand side would be chosen from the eight NRL teams
that don't make the play-offs as well as the two teams that
are knocked out in the first week of the finals.
"We hope to make it a permanent fixture," says NZRL CEO Jim
Doyle, "and a highlight of the calendar."
"It's a way to get our team together and fit and also a
chance for some of the younger players to play another
international match. We probably couldn't call it an official
Kiwis test - because some players would not be available due
to ongoing club commitments - but it would be a New Zealand
This year the team could have been selected from the Eels,
Panthers, Warriors, Roosters, Knights, Titans, Tigers,
Dragons, Sharks and Broncos, with stars such as Benji
Marshall, Shaun Johnson, Ben Matulino and Josh Hoffman
available for such a match.
Outside World Cup tournaments, the Kiwis have often struggled
to play a meaningful number of games due to the restricted
calendar. The Kiwis have only played two test matches this
year, whereas the All Blacks will have played 13 tests by the
end of the year and the All Whites have already completed the
- By Michael Burgess