Written by Joshua Dean
Photo by Andrew Cornaga
I’m a patriotic New Zealander, so obviously I support the New Zealand Kiwis.
The thing that makes the Kiwis so special to me is how they battle so hard for their country. In a nation that is rugby union mad, the Kiwis are often pushed to the side and under appreciated by many New Zealanders. In my view, they deserve a lot more credit tho.
They are currently the number one ranked nation in the world and have been one of the top-performers in international rugby league for their entire time of playing. We have seen some incredible matches and feats throughout the history of the Kiwis so today, I have decided to attempt something almost impossible – pick the best Kiwis side from the past 40 years.
Roger Tuivasa-Sheck (20 Tests, 14 Tries)
RTS has made such a major impact for the Kiwis in such a short space of time, with his dazzling footwork and incredible kick returns. He played his first seven tests on the wing scoring eight tries, then he shifted to the fullback position permanently in 2015, where he scored six tries in 13 tests. Sheck won the Golden Boot award in 2019, something only three other New Zealanders have done. Even though he has only played 20 tests to date, Tuivasa-Sheck has already proven that he is New Zealand’s best ever fullback.
Sean Hoppe (35 Tests, 17 Tries)
Flying winger Sean Hoppe is a legend of New Zealand rugby league. He is best known for his two sensational tries in the 14-14 draw against Australia in 1993, where one was an incredible intercept. The Northcote Tigers junior’s 17 international tries on the wing makes him one of the Kiwi’s most prolific try scorers, earning him a spot in this side.
Nigel Vagana (38 Tries, 19 Tries)
Vagana is the Kiwis second top try scorer of all time and was an unstoppable force for opposition backlines. He was a highly skilled player that played 10 tests or more in three different positions (Wing 10, Centre 14 and Five Eighth 14). ‘Pablo’ was a major part of the Kiwis 2005 Tri-Nations final win and is a must for this all-time side.
Kevin Iro (34 Tests, 16 Tries)
Iro is a Kiwi rugby league legend, who dominated throughout the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, scoring 16 tries in 34 tests for New Zealand. Iro always seemed to play his best footy when playing for the Kiwis and that is why he is a must have in this side. His combination with his winger would be unstoppable for any defence.
Manu Vatuvei (28 Tests, 22 Tries)
Manu ‘The Beast’ Vatuvei holds the Kiwis’s try scoring record, with 22 tries, in only 28 tests. He played a vital role in both the 2005 Tri-Nations and 2008 World Cup victories, terrorising everyone in his path. Big Manu brought chronic fear into other international sides and is definitely one of New Zealand’s most talented rugby league players of all time.
Benji Marshall – Captain (31 Tests, 9 Tries)
Arguably the greatest New Zealand rugby league player of all time, Benji Marshall electrified the world with his blistering speed and killer sidestep. He was the Captain and key player of New Zealand’s only ever World Cup winning side in 2008. Benji holds the record for most games as Kiwis Captain with 22 tests and his flamboyant playing was a sight to see.
Stacey Jones (46 Tests, 16 Tries)
‘The Little General’ is considered by many to be New Zealand’s greatest homegrown rugby league talent. He made his debut as a 19-year-old in 1995 and never looked back, winning the Golden Boot award for International Player of the Year in 2002, something only three other Kiwis have done. Jones was the poster boy for New Zealand rugby league for a decade and is the greatest halfback the Kiwis have ever had.
Ruben Wiki (55 Tests, 15 Tries)
The record holder of the most test matches for the Kiwis with 55, Ruben Wiki was a great serviceman to New Zealand rugby league. He played 34 tests in the forwards and 21 as a centre. One of the greatest achievements in Wiki’s career was when he spearheaded the Kiwis to a 24-0 win in the Tri-Nations Final against Australia in 2005. Wiki will go down as one of the greatest Kiwi forwards of all time, possibly even one of the best Kiwi players of all time.
Isaac Luke (43 Tests, 5 Tries)
‘Bully’ was a major part of the late 2000’s and early 2010’s Kiwi’s setup that really took it to the Kangaroos, winning the 2008 World Cup and the 2010 Four Nations. His dummy half runs were vital for the Kiwis when the forwards were tired. He was also world-class on defence, putting many big hits and key tackles on players double the size of him. Luke’s contribution to the New Zealand rugby league team should never be underestimated.
Quentin Pongia (35 Tests, 2 Tries)
Pongia added much-needed muscle to the Kiwis forward pack when he debuted in 1992. He became the enforcer for the Kiwis throughout the 1990’s, only missing out on selection when injured. Pongia’s game revolved around his toughness and big hits. He is a must in this team and gets a starting spot slightly ahead of modern props because he played with so much passion and intensity.
Hugh McGahan (32 Tests, 16 Tries)
New Zealand rugby league icon Hugh McGahan was a shining light for the Kiwis throughout the 1980’s. McGahan holds the record for most tries in a Kiwis match, with six against PNG in 1983. He captained the side in 17 Tests, including the shock win over Australia in 1987. In the same year he was joint winner alongside Peter Sterling for the Golden Boot award for international player of the year. Hugh McGahan is a legend and is deservedly getting a starting second row spot here.
Simon Mannering (45 Tests, 7 Tries)
A hard-nosed versatile player, Simon Mannering was a key component in the golden era of New Zealand rugby league, winning the 2008 World Cup and the 2010 Four Nations. He played at centre, second row and lock for the Kiwis and was one of the best tacklers in the world throughout his career. In a side that leaned toward attack, Mannering was a brick wall on defence that tirelessly made tackles for the full 80 minutes, making him a must have in this squad.
Adam Blair (51 Tests, 2 Tries)
Blair is only the second player to play over 50 tests for the Kiwis. He played when the Kiwis were at their best and Blair was an integral part of that New Zealand set up. His hard hits and frightening hit ups were a major part of the Kiwis game plan. Blair applied fear to opposition forward packs and that is why he has to be a starter in this team.
Shaun Johnson (32 Tests, 14 Tries)
Even though he has never played off the bench, Shaun Johnson is just too talented not to be picked in this team. He was instrumental in the 2013 World Cup Semi-Final against England, where he stepped and skipped his way to score a try in the dying minutes. In 2014, he was named man of the match in the Four Nations Final where the Kiwis won and was also awarded the Golden Boot for best international player of the year. Johnson’s style of play is so entertaining, however, he lacks the consistency that both Stacey Jones and Benji Marshall possess to start in this side.
Nathan Cayless (39 Tests, 3 Tries)
Cayless was a workhorse in the Kiwi forwards from 1998 to 2008. He always seemed to make an impact for the New Zealand outfit, even though he played 24 of his 39 Tests off the bench. Nathan is someone who could always be trusted to do the ‘one-percenters’ and that is why he is such a safe pick on the bench.
Mark Graham (29 Tests, 7 Tries)
One of the all-time greats of New Zealand rugby league, Mark Graham was an inspirational leader for the Kiwis, having skippered 18 tests for the country. He was named the greatest player New Zealand had ever produced in the century from 1907 to 2006.
Stephen Kearney (45 Tests, 9 Tries)
The youngest player ever to captain New Zealand, Kearney was a great ball-playing forward throughout his time with the Kiwis. He played in the 1990’s, a time of rebuild for the Kiwis and was a standout player for them. His longevity puts him in this team.
Coach – Stephen Kearney (42 Tests, 23 Wins)
Selecting Stephen Kearney as coach in this side was possibly the easiest choice in this whole team. His international coaching resume speaks for itself, having won the 2008 World Cup as well as the 2010 and 2014 Four Nations tournaments. The main reason why Kearney was such a great Kiwis coach was because he found a way to beat the Kangaroos on a regular basis, something no other coach could do. It will be almost impossible for someone to overtake Stephen Kearney as the greatest Kiwis coach of all time, because of how good of a job he did.
Honourable Mentions: Matthew Ridge, Tony Iro, Thomas Leuluai, Gary Freeman, Jason Nightingale, Lance Hohaia, Sonny Bill Williams, Richie Blackmore, Greg Eastwood, Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, Jesse Bromwich, Henry and Robbie Paul Greatest New Zealand Kiwis
Greatest New Zealand Kiwis Greatest New Zealand Kiwis
Greatest rugby league Kiwis side from the past 40 years