PANTHER PRIDE | A big win for the mountain men tonight has them firmly entrenched in the top eight, ...
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NRL grand finalists Krisnan Inu and Elijah Taylor plus North Queensland winger Kalifa Faifai Loa have today been called into the Kiwis' touring squad for their one-off Test against the Kangaroos and the 2011 Four Nations in England.
They come into the side for Vodafone Warriors Manu Vatuvei and Shaun Johnson plus Manly's Steve Matai - all NRL grand finalists last Sunday - were ruled out on medical grounds.
Vatuvei has battled with knee and wrist problems throughout the season but still managed to score 12 tries in 19 matches, the fifth straight year he has been the Vodafone Warriors' top try scorer. Kiwi team doctor Simon Mayhew said Vatuvei needed end of season treatment which might include surgery.
While Johnson finished the 2011 campaign by making 16 NRL appearances he had a late start due to a back injury, which had to be managed throughout the season. Mayhew said Johnson needed a period of rest to fully recover from the complaint.
Matai has a recent history of shoulder and neck complaints which flared up again during Manly's grand final win. Manly's medical staff have told Mayhew Matai may need offseason surgery.
As the Kiwis have numerous options in the halves, the selectors have replaced Johnson with another NRL rookie in Vodafone Warriors back rower Taylor. He played 21 NRL games this year, scoring a try in the grand final loss to Manly when he was being used in the centres.
Inu has been recalled after last being in the Kiwi squad for the 2009 Four Nations. He wasn't used during that campaign but played four Tests in 2007 and 2008.
Faifai Loa scored 10 tries in 22 games for the Cowboys this year, joining the club after making his NRL debut when he was with St George Illawarra last year. Born in Wellington, Faifai Loa (21) was raised in Auckland where he played his junior football for the Marist Saints before linking with Newcastle and then being signed by the Dragons. He joined the Cowboys for the 2011 season.
With Taylor and Faifai Loa coming into the squad, the Kiwis now have seven players yet to play a Test, the others being Vodafone Warriors Kevin Locke and prop Russell Packer, Brisbane's Gerard Beale and Alex Glenn plus Melbourne's Kevin Proctor.
Locke was selected for the Kiwis' 2009 Four Nations campaign but didn't play a match while Beale was 19th man for the Kiwis in this year's Anzac Test and Glenn was in the Anzac Test squad in 2009 and 2010 but didn't make the playing line-up.
A total of eight players involved in Sunday's NRL grand final - seven from the Vodafone Warriors - are included. Named from the premiership-winning Manly side is standoff Kieran Foran.
Apart from Locke, Inu, Taylor and Packer, the other Vodafone Warriors players are centre/second rower Lewis Brown - who made his Test debut in this year's Anzac Test - second rower Simon Mannering and prop Ben Matulino.
In all 17 of the 23 players were involved in finals football in the NRL or the English Super League.
Besides the eight in the NRL grand final, another four are from the Melbourne and Brisbane sides beaten in the preliminary finals - the Storm's Sika Manu and Proctor plus Brisbane's Beale and Glenn. Wigan's Thomas Leuluai also went within a win of making the English Super League grand final while St George Illawarra's Jason Nightingale and Nathan Fien played in the finals as did Kiwi captain Benji Marshall for Wests Tigers and Faifai Loa for North Queensland.
A total of 12 players have now been ruled out of consideration due to injury - Josh Hoffman (Brisbane), Lance Hohaia (Vodafone Warriors), Sam Rapira (Vodafone Warriors), Matt Duffie (Melbourne), Sam Perrett (Sydney Roosters), Shaun Kenny-Dowall (Sydney Roosters), Frank-Paul Nuuausala (Sydney Roosters), Greg Eastwood (Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs) and Bronson Harrison (Canberra) plus Vatuvei, Matai and Johnson. In addition, Bulldogs second rower Frank Pritchard was unavailable after committing himself to Toa Samoa.
The Kiwis are due to assemble in Sydney on Sunday where they will train for three days before travelling to Newcastle for the Bill Kelly Cup Test against the Kangaroos at Ausgrid Stadium on October 16. The team for the Test is due to be named next Monday (October 10).
Following the Newcastle international, the Kiwis will return to Sydney before flying out to England for their Four Nations matches against Australia in Warrington on October 28, Wales at Wembley Stadium in London on November 5 and England at KC Stadium in Hull on November 12. The Four Nations final will be played at Elland Road in Leeds on November 19.
Updated Kiwis squad:
Kalifa Faifai Loa
Benji Marshall (c)