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Damian McKenzie and Israel Folau absent from League One lineups

By Alex McLeod
(Photo / Getty Images)

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Two of Japan Rugby League One’s biggest stars, Damian McKenzie and Israel Folau, haven’t been named to play for their respective teams this weekend.

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Neither player will take to the field in round four of the competition, with McKenzie absent from the Tokyo Suntory Sungoliath match day squad for their clash against the Tokyo Black Rams.

It’s the first time this season the 26-year-old fullback, who has been instrumental in guiding Suntory to an unbeaten start to the season, has been absent from the club’s match day squad this season.

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After McKenzie piled on a collective total of 45 points in his side’s first two victories of the year against the Toshiba Brave Lupus and Toyota Verblitz, Suntory will be without the 40-test All Black’s playmaking guile at Prince Chichibu Memorial Stadium on Sunday.

However, Suntory are still equipped with plenty of star power, with Wallabies duo Samu Kerevi and Sean McMahon both named to start at centre and openside flanker, respectively.

Past and present Brave Blossoms internationals, such as Hendrik Tui, Tevita Tatafu and captain Naoto Saito, have also been included in Suntory’s starting lineup.

The Black Rams, meanwhile, have ex-Wallabies wing Joe Tomane on the bench and former Queensland Reds prospect Isaac Lucas at first-five.

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Similarly to McKenzie, Folau hasn’t been named to play for the Shining Arcs Tokyo-Bay Urayasu for their away clash with the Yokoahama Canon Eagles at The NHK Spring Mitsuzawa Football Stadium on Sunday.

The 32-year-old fullback has been a key figure for the Shining Arcs this season, scoring two tries to propel his side to a tight season-opening victory against the Kobelco Kobe Steelers three weeks ago.

The divisive ex-Wallabies star also cut a prominent figure during his side’s loss to the Kubota Spears Funabashi Tokyo Bay a fortnight ago, but has not been named in his side’s match day squad for the first time this year.

The match will, however, act as former Scotland captain Greig Laidlaw’s first Shining Arcs appearance of the year after the veteran halfback missed his side’s opening two fixtures of the year.

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Laidlaw will partner ex-Blues, Hurricanes and Maori All Blacks playmaker Otere Black in the halves, while former Wallabies loose forward Liam Gill has been selected at No 8.

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That trio will come up against a Canon Eagles side headlined by Springboks wing Jesse Kriel, Wales lock Cory Hill, Brave Blossoms No 8 Amanaki Mafi and captain Yu Tamura.

In Sunday’s other Division 1 fixture, Springboks loose forward Kwagga Smith will make his first League One appearance of the year as the Shizuoka Blue Revs, formerly Yamaha Jubilo, host the NTT Docomo Red Hurricanes Osaka in Iwata.

Smith has been denied the chance to feature at all this season as the Blue Revs had their first three fixtures of the year cancelled due to a Covid outbreak within their squad.

As such, they are yet to register a competition point and lie in second-last place, ahead of the last-placed Red Hurricanes only by points difference.

In Division 2, the Mie Honda Heat, featuring ex-All Blacks wing Matt Duffie, will field Springboks lock Franco Mostert for the first time this year when they host TJ Faiane’s, Jack Debreczeni’s and Nasi Manu’s Hino Red Dolphins in Suzuka.

Sunday’s only other match comes in Division 3, where the Kyuden Voltex take on the Munakata Sanix Blues in Fukuoka.

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