Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Warriors loss Raiders gain

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Rugby league fans will be wondering how Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad slipped through the NZ Warriors fingers, having been released by them in February after being confined to reserve grade in 2018.

This season he scored 11 tries and averaged 160 running metres a game as a penetrating fullback for the Canberra Raiders on their way to the NRL Grand Final.

Hence Kiwis coach Michael Maguire quickly slotted him into his national team and Nicoll-Klostad repaid the favour with strong games in the 12-8 and 23-8 triumphs against Great Britain.

It wasn’t a particularly strong British side but Maguire deserves full credit for fielding a fit, powerful Kiwis combination that did the basics well and defended tenaciously.

Having recalled veteran Benji Marshall, the proud Kiwi relished the captaincy and played smart footy.

Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad.

Having been dropped for the first game against Great Britain after a poor performance in 26-4 loss to Australia, Shaun Johnson redeemed himself in the second when he danced through the defence for a superb try.

As hookers, Brandon Smith and Kodi Nikorima distributed the ball smartly from dummy half and led by rugged Jared Waerea-Hargreaves in the absence of Jesse Bromwich, the forwards ran hard and straight.

Renowned for his toughness and willingness to carry the ball in places angels fear to tread, Waerea-Hargreaves was also a major contributor to the Kiwis defence when the Brits threatened the try-line for long periods of their last game.

Once again speedy Roger Tuivasa-Sheck made big metres with his powerful bursts from the back. However it is about time moves were introduced to put him through gaps that could produce tries rather than leave him to be a lone ranger.

Overall it is a promising team that will develop further if kept together.

Ken Maumalo remains and outstanding left wing and Jamayne Isaako looks sharp on the right with the bonus of being a good goal-kicker.

The double triumph against the Brits was a big improvement on the disappointing 26-6 June loss to the world champion Kangaroos.

Meanwhile having avenged last year’s 28-22 World Cup quarter-final loss to Tonga after leading 20-16 at half time with a resounding 34-14 win this year, the Kiwis were no match for the Kangaroos.

However Tonga bounced back magnificently to beat the Aussies 16-12 before 25,275 red flag waving fans to remind all-comers they are a genuine force to be reckoned with.

Brilliant captain Jason Taumalolo has led the comeback since leaving the Kiwis before the 2018 World Cup while Australian-born Andrew Fifita followed suit.

Other New Zealanders to show their allegiance to Tonga through their parental heritage were David Fusitu’a, Konrad Hurrell, Michael Jennings, Tui Lolohea and Sio Siua Taukeiaho.

Taumalolo and Fusitu’a in particular were a huge loss for the Kiwis.

However they are a great acquisition to proud, boisterous Tongan fans who are the best and loudest league supporters on the planet.

Recent results have shown that Fiji and Papua New Guinea have made huge strides forward too whereas Samoa have slipped backwards.

Meanwhile Sonny Bill Williams has made the Six Million Dollar Man look cheap after accepting a two-year $10 million Canadian offer to play in the British league.

At 34 and taking into account his long injury record, I reckon he’ll spend more time off the field than on it.

Ivan Agnew is an award-winning sports writer

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