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NZ Maori loaded with experience

Published: 1:12PM Friday October 03, 2008 Source: ONE Sport

Departing Warriors back rower Wairangi Koopu is one of four players with test experience named in the New Zealand Maori team to meet the All Golds in New Plymouth on October 12.

Koopu (28), who has just ended his 10-year NRL career, will now line up against his old club-mates Ruben Wiki, Stacey Jones and Logan Swann in what is also likely to be his last rugby league appearance in New Zealand.

After 159 appearances for the Warriors, Koopu is yet to determine his future. He has indicated he is still looking at the possibility of playing in the English Super League but he has also shown an interest in perhaps switching to rugby union.

Recently he has trained with Auckland's Air New Zealand Cup rugby squad.

On Friday the national selectors named the 2004-05 Kiwi international in the centres for the Maori where he'll team up with 2007 Kiwi rookie Shaun Kenny-Dowall.

Kiwi rookies

Kenny-Dowall made his test debut at the age of 19 against France last November and scored 15 tries in 19 NRL appearances for the Sydney Roosters this year.

Chosen to play on one wing is St George Illawarra's Jason Nightingale, another one-test Kiwi who made his debut in this year's Centenary Test against Australia. The 22-year-old scored 13 tries in 24 games for the Dragons this year.

The only other former Kiwi - also a one-test international - is Wests Tigers second rower Bronson Harrison (22). He played against France in 2005 and has recently signed with Canberra for the 2009 NRL season.

Coach Luke Goodwin, son of St George legend 'Lord' Ted Goodwin, said the game was an exciting opportunity for the Maori players.

"It's a fair side named to play for the All Golds, a heck of a side," he said from Sydney.

"Our boys will be coming up against some real legends of the game. The way we see it, it's a huge opportunity for our players and a real honour to be able to play against a side of such quality.

"It's healthy for New Zealand rugby league that we're able to have a match like this. There are young players in our side who have a huge future in the game."

The other players in the starting line-up all have NRL experience with one notable exception - fullback Kevin Locke.

Junior Warrior included

The 19-year-old excelled for the Vodafone Junior Warriors in this year's inaugural National Youth Competition, scoring 236 points including 15 tries. He was named the club's NYC player of the year.

Also included is another NYC star Wellington-born Jordan Rapana, a talented 19-year-old winger who scored five tries in five NRL outings for the Gold Coast Titans this year.

A famous surname appears on the Maori bench - Bunce. In this case it's Chance, son of legendary All Black centre Frank.

Highly-touted, the younger Bunce has been on Cronulla's books this year where he has appeared for the club's New South Wales Cup side.

The New Zealand Maori squad includes five players who were in the Junior Kiwi side that toppled the Junior Kangaroos 24-22 in Wellington last October - Kenny-Dowall, Penrith prop Sam McKendry (19), Roosters forwards Anthony Cherrington (20) and James Tamou (19) plus Melbourne's Kevin Proctor (19).

A sixth player Arana Taumata (19) was in the Junior Kiwi squad but didn't play. McKendry, Cherrington, Proctor and Taumata all made their NRL debuts this year.

The New Plymouth match is a build-up to the 2008 Rugby League World Cup for the Kiwis.

It's also vital for the Maori side as they prepare for their appearance against the Australian Indigenous team in the curtain-raiser to the Australia-New Zealand encounter which officially opens the World Cup at the Sydney Football Stadium on October 26.

Goodwin said he was thrilled the Maori team would be able to begin its two-match campaign in New Zealand.

"This is going to be a fantastic experience for us," he said.

"I think it's so important that we're able to assemble as a team back home and start our journey from there, have this match in New Plymouth and then head to Sydney to play the Australian Indigenous team.

"We're going to stay at Turangawaewae Marae next week. It's just going to be tremendous for all of us."

First-choice props James Stosic (Gold Coast), who hails from Stratford, and Palmerston North-born Ricky Thorby (St George Illawarra) were ruled out of the side with injury.

That sees Parramatta's Dannevirke-born Weller Hauraki starting at prop with McKendry while Turangi product Ben Ellis (St George Illawarra) is at hooker.

Of the Maori team, Waiouru-born halfback Rangi Chase (St George Illawarra), Cherrington, Harrison, Hauraki, Kenny-Dowall, Nightingale and Tokoroa-born loose forward Lee Te Maari (Bulldogs) were all in New Zealand's 49-man World Cup train-on squad named in August.

New Zealand Maori squad:

1 KEVIN LOCKE (Vodafone Warriors)
2 JORDAN RAPANA (Gold Coast)
3 SHAUN KENNY-DOWALL (Sydney Roosters)
4 WAIRANGI KOOPU (Vodafone Warriors)
5 JASON NIGHTINGALE (St George Illawarra)
6 ARANA TAUMATA (Melbourne)
7 RANGI CHASE (St George Illawarra)
8 SAM McKENDRY (Penrith)
9 BEN ELLIS (St George Illawarra)
10 WELLER HAURAKI (Parramatta)
11 BRONSON HARRISON (Wests Tigers)
12 ANTHONY CHERRINGTON (Sydney Roosters)
13 LEE TE MAARI (Bulldogs)

14 JARED KAHU (Brisbane)
15 JOSEPH CAHILL (Sydney Roosters)
16 CHANCE BUNCE (Cronulla)
17 JAMES TAMOU (Sydney Roosters)
18 KEVIN PROCTOR (Melbourne)