Vukona to lead Tall Blacks in qualifiers

Mika Vukona
Mika Vukona
Mika Vukona is to lead the Tall Blacks into their next round of World Cup qualifying matches.

The experienced forward was yesterday named in the squad, alongside 11 others, to play Syria and Lebanon in September's qualifying window.

Both Tai Webster and Isaac Fotu will return from their European sides, giving the Tall Blacks a huge boost.

However, Corey Webster will miss the games due to personal reasons and Tom Abercrombie was not considered because of an injured hamstring.

Tai Webster
Tai Webster
Aside from that, the team is a fairly standard representation of the country's best New Zealand and Australian-based players.

Shea Ili and Jarrod Kenny are both fast ball-handling guards and defend at a high level.

There is versatility in the likes of Reuben Te Rangi, Ethan Rusbatch and Dion Prewster, while Jordan Ngatai and Finn Delany add plenty to the forward line-up.

Rounding out the team are big men Tohi Smith-Milner and Rob Loe.

Head coach Paul Henare loves nothing better than getting ''the band back together'' and says the excitement is already building for two crucial games.

''This next round will be the biggest challenge we have faced so far, both in terms of the opposition, but also the travel,'' he said.

''Getting in and out of the Middle East in the short time we have between games is something new, but in typical Tall Blacks fashion, we are looking forward to taking that on and putting in some strong performances.

''The first and only focus for the team is Syria in Beirut, but the support staff have come up with a plan to have us back and ready to go again in Rotorua on the 17th against Lebanon.

''The reality is we must view the window in totality and do all we can to get the best out of the players across both games.

He said the team was still taking these games seriously, despite talk it was a near certainty to qualify.

''We will not take anything for granted; that is a recipe for disaster.

''The fact is we are not yet qualified and must continue to pick up wins to keep pace at the top of the group.

''We know how tough these road trips are going to be and the hurdles we will have to overcome. We cannot and will not let our guard down for one moment.''

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