iSelect Titans centre Brad Takairangi has been rewarded for some good form at the back end of the season with selection in the initial New Zealand train-on squad of 21 players in preparation for the Four-Nations series in October and November.
Earlier this week Aidan Sezer was included in the Kangaroos train-on squad along with this year’s State of Origin representatives David Taylor and Greg Bird. Nate Myles is unavailable after shoulder surgery.
Sezer was included in last year’s World Cup train-on squad too and was close to making the final squad but missed out on touring.
Another Titans player, under-20s co-captain Jahrome Hughes, has been chosen in the Junior Kiwis training squad. The Junior Kiwis will face the Junior Kangaroos at Mt Smart Stadium on October 18.
Kalifa Faifai Loa was a surprise omission from the Samoan squad after his great form in the last third of the season.
Takairangi, a Cook Island representative at last year’s World Cup who finished the season in the back row because of the Titans’ injury crisis but played most of the year at right centre, was over the moon at his selection.
“It’s been one of my most consistent years and it was definitely a buzz when I got the news,” said the Sydney-born 25-year-old whose mother is New Zealand-born Maori and father is a Cook Islander.
“It has always been a dream to play for the Kiwis and just to be in the mix in the squad … I’m over the moon.”
Eleven potential debutants were named in the Kiwis train-on squad for next month's Four Nations tournament in New Zealand and Australia. Further names will be added as more teams are eliminated.
The final squad will consist of about 40 players and the Four Nations roster of 24 will be named from the list the week after the NRL grand final on October 5.
The only players so far missing from the Kiwis' most recent outing - the Anzac Test against Australia in May - are Warriors utility Ben Henry, who has elected to have off-season knee surgery, and five-eighth Isaac John, after tearing an Achilles tendon in May.
One notable exclusion is former Kiwis captain Benji Marshall, who tried his hand at rugby union this season, before returning to the NRL with St George Dragons.
"Over the last 18 months, we've worked really hard on developing Shaun Johnson and Kieran Foran," says Kearney. "That's not to say in 12 months’ time, Benji might not have the opportunity to wear the Kiwis jumper again.
"I thought the way he has come back has been a real credit to him and I'm not discounting him ever wearing a black jersey again."
The squad is:
Gerard Beale (St George Dragons), Adam Blair (Wests Tigers), Fa'amanu Brown (Cronulla Sharks), Sosaia Feki (Cronulla Sharks), David Fusitua (Vodafone Warriors), Siliva Havili (Vodafone Warriors), Valentine Holmes (Cronulla Sharks), Konrad Hurrell (Vodafone Warriors), Shaun Johnson (Vodafone Warriors), Ngani Laumape (Vodafone Warriors), Thomas Leuluai (Vodafone Warriors), Simon Mannering (Vodafone Warriors), Suaia Matagi (Vodafone Warriors), Ben Matulino (Vodafone Warriors), Matt McIlwrick (Canberra Raiders), Jason Nightingale (St George Dragons), Sauaso Sue (Wests Tigers), Brad Takairangi (Gold Coast Titans), Martin Taupau (Wests Tigers), Bodene Thompson (Wests Tigers), Manu Vatuvei (Vodafone Warriors)
The Four Nations tournament kicks off on October 25, with an England v Samoa and NZ v Australia doubleheader at Brisbane's Suncorp Stadium.