Unwanted All Blacks duo Waisake Naholo and Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi will have to state their case for World Cup inclusion through the Mitre 10 Cup after being named in the Taranaki squad for the upcoming campaign.
Naholo and Tahuriorangi were left out of All Blacks head coach Steve Hansen’s extended 39-man squad for the Rugby Championship, with the likes of Sevu Reece, George Bridge and Brad Weber preferred in the outside backs and at halfback, respectively.
London Irish-bound Naholo’s exclusion came after the 28-year-old was dogged by bad form early in the Super Rugby season with the Highlanders, which was followed by a lengthy spell on the sidelines with a knee injury, before returning to impress in limited outings.
Tahuriorangi, meanwhile, struggled for game time behind the in-form Weber at the Chiefs, with the diminutive halfback earning selection back into the national side after four years in the international wilderness.
Back-to-back appearances for the Maori All Blacks in consecutive weeks over the past fortnight won’t have quelled Tahuriorangi’s desire to play for the All Blacks again this year, but both he and Naholo will be forced to prove their worth in New Zealand’s premier domestic competition.
They will be supported by a strong core of players named by head coach Willie Rickards, which includes a raft of individuals with Super Rugby experience.
Other notable names throughout the team include Chiefs sextet Reuben O’Neill, Bradley Slater, Jesse Parete, Lachlan Boshier, Pita Gus Sowakula and Sean Wainui, while Hurricanes duo Ricky Riccitelli and Heiden Bedwell-Curtis have also been named.
New Zealand U20 captain Kaylum Boshier has been picked alongside national teammate Tupou Vaa’i, as has young Blues playmaker Stephen Perofeta, although injury has ruled him out of contention until late August.
In his absence, Daniel Waite will be expected to call the shots in the No 10 jersey.
Naholo’s younger brother and former schoolboy sensation, Kiniviliame Naholo, is also a selection worthy of note.
The ex-Hasting’s Boys’ High School wing scored 40 tries in 20 games en route to claiming the national secondary school title in 2017, the same year of which he featured alongside the likes of Etene Nanai-Seturo, Leicester Fainga’anuku and Quinn Tupaea in a star-studded New Zealand Schools team.
Taranaki Bulls Mitre 10 Cup squad:
Mitch Brown (c), Reuben O’Neill, Chris Gawler, Jared Proffit, Asaeli Sorovaki, Donald Brighouse, Kyle Stewart, Ricky Riccitelli, Bradley Slater, Scott Mellow, Tupou Vaa’i, Leighton Price, Josh Lord, Jesse Parete, Heiden Bedwell-Curtis, Tom Florence, Kaylum Boshier, Lachlan Boshier, Pita Gus Sowakula.
Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, Lisati Milo-Harris, Warwick Lahmert, Xavier Roe, Stephen Perofeta, Teihorangi Walden (vc), Regan Verney, Sean Wainui, Lukas Halls, Kiniviliame Naholo, Waisake Naholo, Jackson Ormond, Jayson Potroz, Brayton Northcott-Hill.
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