Veterans return for Kiwis

Simon Mannering will return for the Kiwis to play Tonga. Photo: Getty Images
Simon Mannering will return for the Kiwis to play Tonga. Photo: Getty Images
Kiwis coach David Kidwell has gone back to his top side for Saturday's Rugby League World Cup clash against Tonga in Hamilton.

Kidwell has brought back veterans Thomas Leuluai and Simon Mannering while he's opted for Kodi Nikorima as Shaun Johnson's halves partner for what he describes as the "toughest match of the tournament" thus far.

Jordan Rapana starts on the right wing, while Dallin Watene-Zelezniak will partner Panthers teammate Dean Whare on the left edge.

The biggest selection debate appeared to be at five-eighth. Te Maire Martin played well in his opportunity against Scotland last week but Kidwell has opted for Nikorima.

"Young Te Maire played a really great game on the weekend," Kidwell said. "But the decision is, like I've said before, Kodi wants it and so he shares that responsibility with Shaun.

"The great thing is, looking at all those players that hadn't played in the first game, there is a bit of pressure there for spots and competition.

"Te Maire wants it for sure but we have just gone with Kodi because we think he can direct the team with Shaun and he has that little bit of x-factor about him and confidence."

Kidwell played down any thoughts of the occasion being a grudge match against those Tongan players that turned their backs on the Kiwi jumper just prior to the World Cup.

He insisted that won't impact on how the Kiwis approach the game.

"We are in a really good space - we have been since the start of the campaign," the Kiwis coach said. "We are nice and relaxed but we also know the big challenge ahead of us.

"We just have the focus on us and our energy and where that needs to be.

"We aren't tapping into any emotion or anything. We are preparing how we have been for the last three weeks since we started the campaign."

Tonga has been impressive in their back-to-back wins so far this tournament. They thrashed Scotland first up before a dominant win over Samoa last weekend.

Kidwell and the Kiwis have watched both Tongan games and were impressed by their performances.

"They have been playing great," he said. "They had a good game against Samoa. Their strengths I think are in their forward pack so our forward pack is looking forward to the challenge."

The big test will be trying to keep 2016 Dally M medal winner Jason Taumalolo in check.

"It is about limiting his metres," Kidwell said. "He is obviously the form forward in the game but I look at our forward pack as well and the way we have been performing.

"We just have to make sure we prepare well during the week and are ready to face that challenge."

The Kiwis to face Tonga: Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, Dallin Watene-Zelezniak, Dean Whare, Brad Takairangi, Jordan Rapana, Kodi Nikorima, Shaun Johnson, Martin Taupau, Thomas Leuluai, Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, Simon Mannering, Joseph Tapine, Adam Blair (captain). Interchange: Nelson Asofa-Solomona, Russell Packer, Isaac Liu, Danny Levi.

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