New Zealand chief hints at international series as they replicate England pathway

James Gordon
New Zealand

Photo by Mark Cosgrove/News Images

While we are still awaiting details of the international calendar for 2023 and beyond, New Zealand have revealed plans to create a ‘second team’ akin to the England Knights.

It will follow the model set Down Under by Australia’s Prime Minister’s XIII, to give fringe and uncapped players the chance to play representative rugby league.

The New Zealand Rugby League says the side could play in international windows against Pacific nations and their Australian counterparts.

Kiwis head coach, former Wigan boss Michael Maguire, told “It’s definitely something I am keen to get up and running ASAP. We want to be able to get more Kiwis playing in the jerseys on the pathway to playing at the highest levels.

“We need to show the pathway to come in and give players an experience of what the culture of New Zealand league is all about. The more we can connect our Kiwi players to those pathways the better, I am a big advocate of that.

“England have it too with the Knights, it’s not just the Australians who are doing it.”

New Zealand are also hoping to bring back the Junior Kiwis, who haven’t played since before COVID.

International window opening up

NZRL CEO Greg Peters has hinted at an international series for the Kiwis at the end of the year, with the announcement delayed due to the ongoing wrangle between the NRL and its clubs and players over the collective bargaining agreement.

With Tonga still expected to travel to England for an autumn test series, it’s likely the Kiwis will take on Australia Down Under and Peters is expected it to be an ‘in camp’ environment rather than playing one-off matches, which hints at multiple games.

Peters told “I’m encouraged by what we are looking at doing at the end of the year and the window that is now opening up for international matches outside of a World Cup year.

“I think it’s good to be able to get a group of players together to work for a number of weeks, and the high performance program we could put around that is great.”

The Australia’s Prime Minister’s XIII typically plays games against Papua New Guinea, and won a meeting 64-14 in Brisbane back in September. Their only other opponent was a Fiji Prime Minister’s side in 2019.

England Knights have increased their activity in recent years, playing against France B and Scotland last year, while they have also had games against Jamaica. In 2018, they went on tour to Papua New Guinea.

Frustration remains at the lack of international calendar following on from last year’s World Cup.

The European Championships are the only international rugby league currently scheduled for the end of the year. There is likely to be further World Cup qualifiers involving Americas and Middle East/Africa sides.

But the main wait is on what Australia, New Zealand and the other Pacific nations will be doing.

The RFL remain hopeful that Tonga will be in England, despite rumours from Down Under that a Four Nations involving Australia, New Zealand, Samoa and Tonga is being lined up.

Fiji and Papua New Guinea will also provide more than competitive opposition options.

Still awaiting 2023 and 2024 plans

The international calendar had previously been promised midway through last year, and there had been hopes to finalise the 2023 and 2024 calendar in December.

International Rugby League chief, Troy Grant, said late last year: “The CBA negotiations need to conclude for NRL contracted players regarding international matches before Australia and New Zealand can commit to fixtures. That impacts on other nations.

“The International Rugby League aren’t part of the negotiations, nor should we be. Both sides are doing what they think is best, we just hope for a resolution ASAP.

What is being drafted for the southern hemisphere is a form of Pacific Cup for 2023, which will include Australia and New Zealand, and a touring option to the northern hemisphere for another nation, but not Australia or New Zealand.

The much spoken about IRL calendar will then cover the next ten years, and all nations can look forward to more regularity and long-term planning.”

However, a regular international calendar has been promised throughout the last decade and we are yet to see it with fans expressing their continued frustration.

IRL Sumo tweeted: “This is awesome. So any tests planned this year, next year and for the next 10 years? We are failing as an international sport when we have so much potential to grow.”

Duke25: “While good in theory in regards to player development for the moment let’s just concentrate on actual National sides actually playing test matches.”

JYP: “Why make all these ‘plans’ yet have no test matches confirmed yet. What happened to the ANZAC test?”

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