Special talent set for debut
The stunning rise of Isaiah Papali’i this year has continued, with confirmation he will make his Kiwis debut in the third test against England tomorrow (4.15am NZT).
Papali’i has always been seen as a special talent, ever since he made his NRL debut barely out of school, and his ascension was only a matter of time.
But the manner of his elevation will raise some eyebrows, as experienced interchange forward Marty Taupau has been axed at his expense.
Taupau has been a regular since his test debut in May 2014, accumulating 24 tests, and is usually one of the first picked.
In other changes, Joseph Tapine returns to the bench after making a brief cameo in the first test in Hull, while Penrith youngster James Fisher-Harris, part of the starting lineup the past two weeks, has been demoted to the extended bench.
Jamayne Isaako replaces Canberra winger Jordan Rapana, who has returned to Australia after being ruled out of the tour with a shoulder injury.
Isaako, named Dally M NRL Rookie of the Year, will make his second test appearance after his debut against England in Denver.
Isaako missed the first test in England for the birth of his first child. He rejoined the Kiwis last week and will add much-needed pace to their backline.
The selection for the third test was unusual. Initially, the NZRL confirmed a 20-man extended squad — without nominating any positions — but a few hours later, Maguire had settled on his 17, with Gerard Beale, Fisher-Harris and Jahrome Hughes missing out, while Taupau was omitted together.
Papali’i (20) captained the Junior Kiwis last month.
“The future of where you are going is strong when you have young players like that coming in,” said Maguire. “Young Isaiah, he’s been perfect on tour. He’s done all the training, he’s a very diligent young man. So I am looking forward to seeing him have one of many games moving forward but obviously he understands it’s a big day and he is after a big performance.”
He was a shock selection for Stephen Kearney’s first Warriors game in 2017. After that match against Newcastle, he wasn’t sighted again until the end of last season, where he made a further four appearances.
But after a strong pre-season under new trainer Alex Corvo, he didn’t look back this year. He was virtually everpresent from the end of April and his form was so strong, he forced Simon Mannering into a bench role.
His defensive workload was outstanding as was his attacking and ability to find space and offloads where none seemed possible.
Papali’i made his name in 1st XV rugby, and was named the best schoolboy player in the country in 2016 after leading Mt Albert Grammar to the national title. But he was always going to focus on league, and thankfully for the Kiwis, he has.
Already there are comparisons with Mannering and Stephen Kearney, in terms of his precociousness, capacity for training and attitude towards preparation. He’s mature beyond his years, and will need to be against a confident England team, looking to put the seal on a perfect series in front of an expected 35,000 crowd in Leeds.
“[We have] a stronger understanding of what we need to do on the field,” said Maguire. “We are well aware of what England are throwing at us now and it’s about doing that on every single play.
‘‘The concentration around that has been a big part of this training week and the boys are focused on a strong performance.”
Isaiah Papali’i will graduate from the Junior Kiwis to debut for the Kiwis.