Predicted New Zealand Tri-Nations Series team, Michael Maguire, Shaun Johnson return, news, Jahrome Hughes, Dylan Brown, schedules – TOTOCC

New Zealand coach Michael Maguire has confirmed Shain Johnson is in contention for Kiwis selection as the experienced coach faces a mammoth halves decision.

Maguire’s outfit lost to Australia in last year’s World Cup semi final by the finest of margins, and the Kiwis will be out for revenge.

New Zealand side will take part in the recently-announced Pacific Championships series at season’s end, hoping to improve their currently 2nd placed world ranking.

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Dylan Brown and Jahrome Hughes were Maguire’s halves pairing in their last outing, but the emergence of Johnson has thrown a spanner in the works.

The 32-year-old is a contender for the Dally M Medal and the New Zealand coach revealed he has been spurred on by his omission from last year’s squad.

“Shaun is going to assess that when the time comes and see how his body is,” Maguire said to AAP.

“His big focus at the moment is obviously trying to win it for the Warriors but it has been nice to see how he has been playing.

“Shaun was obviously disappointed at the back end of last season and obviously didn’t come away to the World Cup.

“One thing he did say is, ‘I will be back. I want to have another crack at the international space’.”

Maguire is expected to announce his squad in the weeks following the NRL grand final.

Read below for’s predicted New Zealand side for the 2023 Tri-Nations series!


Incumbent: Joey Manu

Contenders: Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad

Analysis: The reigning Golden Boot winner will be one of the first names on the team sheet. Joey Manu at fullback is a joy to watch and the Roosters gun’s attacking prowess will once again be on full display for his nation.

Verdict: Joey Manu

Joseph Manu is a shoe-in for the fullback spot. (Photo by Ashley Allen/Getty Images)Source: Getty Images


Incumbent: Ronaldo Mulitalo and Jordan Rapana

Contenders: Dallin Watene-Zelezniak, Jamayne Isaako

Analysis: Ronaldo Mulitalo and Jordan Rapana were Michael Maguire’s wingers in last year’s semi final against the Kangaroos. Mulitalo will almost certainly keep his spot and has once again been one of the NRL’s most dangerous wide men, scoring 18 in only 19 appearances in 2023. However, the remaining spot is up for grabs and one man has put himself firmly in the lead to take the jersey — Dallin Watene Zelezniak. The 27-year-old has been one of the Warriors’ most important players this season and his finishing ability seems to have gone to a new level under rookie coach Andrew Webster. ‘DWZ’ has scored 18 times in a staggering 15 games is having what could be considered a career-best season in 2023 as the New Zealand side charge towards an almost certain top four finish. Jordan Rapana has had a forgettable year in the nation’s capital, while Jamayne Isaako has been excellent for the Dolphins in their inaugural NRL season. The former Bronco has scored 20 tries in 21 games, but Watene Zelezniak’s form can’t be ignored.

Verdict: Ronaldo Mulitalo and Dallin Watene-Zelezniak


Incumbent: Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad and Peta Hiku

Contenders: Bailey Simonsson, Matthew Timoko, Reimis Smith

Analysis: Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad and Peta Hiku were the nation’s preferred centre pairing during last year’s World Cup. After making a successful move back to the Warriors, Nicoll-Klokstad has been one of the NRL’s most consistent players in 2023. While he doesn’t fit in to this team at fullback, he is a leading candidate to take a spot in the outside backs and continue in his role as New Zealand’s centre. Peta Hiku has been down on form this season and may find himself on the outer, with a new kid on the block. Matt Timoko has been strong this season for the Raiders and could be New Zealand’s first choice centre moving forward. He is yet to make his debut for the Kiwis and wasn’t included in their World Cup squad last season. However, his barnstorming runs and try-scoring abilities can’t be ignored. Reimis Smith is also an option, however injuries have once again hampered his season in 2023.

Verdict: Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad and Matt Timoko

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Incumbent: Dylan Brown

Contenders: Shaun Johnson

Analysis: Dylan Brown is the incumbent but his season has been a turbulent one after he was stood down after being found guilty of sexual touching without consent. He spent an extended period sidelined and in the meantime, Shaun Johnson has had one of his best seasons to date. With Jahrome Hughes also delivering for the Storm in the No.7, Johnson’s dazzling footwork and playmaking skills could be utilised in the No.6 jersey. The former Kiwi international has been so strong he is also one of the frontrunners for the Dally M Medal this season in a scary return to the top end of the game’s best playmakers. Michael Maguire can’t ignore his form and he could earn a shock recall after last featuring for the Kiwis in 2019. Johnson has recorded a staggering 26 try assists in 21 games in 2023. While Johnson could pip Brown his the five-eighth role, he could still find himself in the team.

Verdict: Shaun Johnson


Incumbent: Jahrome Hughes

Contenders: Shaun Johnson

Analysis: Shaun Johnson has been named in this side at five-eighth and with Jahrome Hughes also in fine form, he is the obvious man to wear the No.7. In only 18 games Hughes has assisted 19 tries and also scored six to go with 50 tackle breaks.

Verdict: Jahrome Hughes

Jahrome Hughes is a deserving winner of the No.7 jersey. (Photo by Nathan Stirk/Getty Images)Source: Getty Images


Incumbent: Jesse Bromwich and James Fisher-Harris

Contenders: Moses Leota, Nelson Asofa-Solomona, Isaac Liu, Jared Waerea-Hargreaves

Analysis: Marking the end of an era, Jesse Bromwich could be left out of the New Zealand side ahead of the 2023 Tri-Nations series. By no fault of his own, the talent pool the Kiwis are blessed with is so strong he could find himself in the extended squad after starting in last year’s World Cup semi final. A loyal servant, Bromwich has played 33 games for the Kiwis and could potentially find himself in the team across the series but may not be Maguire’s first choice. James Fisher-Harris is a shoe in to pack the scrum and has once again spearheaded a scary Panthers pack, with his fellow Penrith front rower Moses Leota the man in line to take over in the starting side. He played off the bench in New Zealand’s last game but could be in line for a deserved promotion to the starting team. Elsewhere Isaac Liu could find himself squeezed off the bench, while Jared Waerea-Hargreaves is also an outside shout for selection.

Verdict: James Fisher-Harris and Moses Leota


Incumbent: Brandon Smith

Contenders: Jeremy Marshall-King

Analysis: Jeremy Marshall-King’s season is over according to Wayne Bennett and he would have likely been Maguire’s first choice hooker. That leaves Brandon Smith to take up the No.9 jersey, despite the Roosters gun’s patchy season. He spent an extended period sidelined with a finger injury and hasn’t fully adjusted to the Tricolours’ playing style yet. However, no one can deny his quality and when running the ball he is one of rugby league’s best hookers.

Verdict: Brandon Smith

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Incumbent: Isaiah Papali’i and Briton Nikora

Contenders: Marata Niukore, Kenny Bromwich, Scott Sorensen

Analysis: The man dubbed the NRL’s best line runner, Briton Nikora, is a shoe in for a spot in the backrow at the year’s end. He has once again been strong in a spluttering Sharks outfit and is a worthy man to earn another New Zealand cap. Isaiah Papali’i was the man to win the other backrow spot in 2022 and was one of rugby league’s best forwards last season. His form has dropped in 2023, along with the rest of the Tigers outfit, meaning he has been left out of the starting side in place of a Warriors gun. Marata Niukore has played in the middle and on an edge under Andrew Webster this season, but has been excellent since making the move across the Tasman. For the Eels, Niukore was a strong bench option but he has taken his game to new heights in 2023 and is deserving of call-up to the starting side in this year’s Tri-Nations series. Elsewhere, Panthers gun Scott Sorensen has also been strong this year, cementing himself in the Penrith starting backrow but is still behind some strong forwards in the Kiwis’ pecking order.

Verdict: Briton Nikora and Marata Niukore


Incumbent: Joseph Tapine

Contenders: Marata Niukore, Isaac Liu, Kenny Bromwich

Analysis: Joseph Tapine was handed a mammoth four-year extension last season, joining the highest forward earners in the NRL. He has once again been one of the Raiders’ best players in 2023 and has been a key figure in their finals football credentials. Tapine will almost certainly line up at lock once again.

New Zealand’s Joseph Tapine will be out for revenge. / AFP PHOTO / Marty MELVILLESource: AFP

Verdict: Joseph Tapine


Incumbent: Kieran Foran, Moses Leota, Nelson Asofa-Solomona and Isaac Liu

Contenders: Dylan Brown, Isaiah Papali’i, Scott Sorensen, Isaac Liu, Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, Jesse Bromwich, Kenny Bromwich, Nelson Asofa-Solomona

Analysis: With Johnson being included as the five-eighth in this team, that leaves Dylan Brown to wear the No.14 jumper and play as a utility. The Eels gun can slot in at hooker to give Smith a break or time to shift in to the middle rotation. He also provides elite back-up should one of the halves get injured and also can play in the centres and has previously featured in the outside backs under Brad Arthur. He is a perfect utility and will be surrounded by an impressive pack of forwards. Nelson Asofa-Solomona’s impact off the bench can’t be understated and he can be injected in to the game at any point, also possessing the ability to play all middle forwards positions and on an edge. Isaiah Papali’i, albeit a smaller frame, is a similar player and can also play as a middle forward and on an edge and his quality sees him also win a bench spot. The final spot goes to Panthers gun Scott Sorensen who has emerged as the reigning premier’s starting backrower in the absence of Viliame Kikau who joined the Bulldogs. Sorensen is another who can play on and edge or in the middle and NRL fans have already seen what he can do off the bench, having played a role for Penrith during their back-to-back premierships.

Verdict: Dylan Brown, Isaiah Papali’i, Scott Sorensen, Nelson Asofa-Solomona


1. Joey Manu

2. Ronaldo Mulitalo

3. Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad

4. Matthew Timoko

5. Dallin Watene-Zelezniak

6. Shaun Johnson

7. Jahrome Hughes

8. Moses Leota

9. Brandon Smith

10. James Fisher-Harris

11. Briton Nikora

12. Marata Niukore

13. Joseph Tapine

14. Dylan Brown

15. Scott Sorensen

16. Isaiah Papali’i

17. Nelson Asofa-Solomona


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