While the Wests Tigers may be the home side for Saturday’s clash in Hamilton, the Waikato crowd are expected to largely favour the visiting New Zealand Warriors.
Match: Wests Tigers v Warriors
Round 24 -
Venue: FMG Stadium Waikato, Hamilton
However, the trip across the Tasman will not be a foreign experience for several Wests Tigers players who hold close connections with the Land of the Long White Cloud.
Seven players who will run out on Saturday night for Wests Tigers were born in New Zealand and will have the unique opportunity to play in front of their family and friends at home.
The Wests Tigers backline possesses a strong Kiwi influence, with Jahream Bula, Starford To’a, Asu Kepaoa and Junior Tupou all born in Auckland.
Bula moved to Australia at the age of thirteen to attend Keebra Park High School, while Starford To’a finished his schooling in New Zealand before joining the Newcastle Knights in 2018.
Asu Kepaoa and Junior Tupou started their sporting journeys in rugby union but switched codes to pursue careers in the thirteen-a-side game.
Moving to the forward pack, Isaiah Papali’i is no stranger to the Warriors faithful, having spent four seasons at the club after making his first grade debut in 2017.
Papali’i represented the Junior Kiwis before progressing to the New Zealand National Side, which he has represented on seven occasions.
The man known as ‘Ice’ will be joined in the back-row by Fonua Pole, who is the only member of the team born in Wellington.
Then of course there is Stefano Utoikamanu who returns to the side after missing last week’s loss in Canberra (HIA protocols). The NSW Origin prop was born in Auckland and moved to Sydney as a toddler.
Also in the travelling party is reserve prop Aitasi James who relocated from New Zealand to Australia in his teens, making his NRL debut for Wests Tigers in Round 19 this season.
Of course, we could not forget about Wests Tigers Assistant Coach Benji Marshall, who is widely recognised as one of New Zealand’s greatest rugby league exports.
After making his mark at club level, Marshall played 31 matches for the Kiwis and played a pivotal role in their success at the World Cup and Four Nations.
In recognition of his contribution to the sport and his country, he was honoured as a Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit in 2022.