Kiwis roll dice with youth as veteran hooker Issac Luke pays price for poor season

Issac Luke was replaced in the Kiwis squad by Danny Levi.
CAMERON SPENCER/GETTY IMAGES

Issac Luke was replaced in the Kiwis squad by Danny Levi.

Kiwis coach David Kidwell is confident his gamble on youth will pay off after dropping Issac Luke in favour of rookie rake Danny Levi.

While Jason Taumalolo's shock defection to Tonga, along with fellow New Zealand-eligible players David Fusitu'a, Sio Siua Taukeiaho and Manu Ma'u, dominated the Kiwis' squad announcement on Thursday, Luke was the biggest casualty from the 24 players selected for the World Cup.

The 37-test veteran ultimately paid the price for an inconsistent season with the Warriors. Although his experience may well have been an asset given the amount of high-profile players unavailable for the tournament.

David Kidwell has named Danny Levi as his only genuine No 9 in the squad.
ASHLEY FEDER/GETTY IMAGES

David Kidwell has named Danny Levi as his only genuine No 9 in the squad.

Levi had been on the Kiwis' radar for some time now having served as 18th man during last year's Anzac test. 

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Like Luke, the 21-year-old's strength lies in his running game around the ruck and despite playing for the last-placed Knights he is coming off a solid season where he featured in every game, alternating between the starting side and the bench.

There is plenty of excitement around Melbourne giant Nelson Asofa-Solomona.
MATT KING/GETTY IMAGES

There is plenty of excitement around Melbourne giant Nelson Asofa-Solomona.

While Thomas Leuluai and Kodi Nikorima provide adequate cover, it is still a bold call by Kidwell to name Levi as his only genuine No 9 in the squad.

But the coach has no doubt he is up to the job.

"That was a tough one," Kidwell said of the decision to leave Luke out. 

"We had a really robust conversation but we decided but he was a bit inconsistent this year and we've gone with Danny Levi. 

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"I think he's played really consistently for Newcastle and we've gone with youth."

Levi is one of five new caps alongside forwards Nelson Asofa-Solomona (Storm), Addin Fonua-Blake (Sea Eagles), Isaac Liu (Roosters) and utility Brad Takairangi (Eels).

Kenny Bromwich, Elijah Taylor and Jared Waerea-Hargreaves were also rushed into the squad at the last minute following the defections.

Traditionally an area of strength, one of the biggest talking points ahead of New Zealand's opening game against Samoa on October 28 will be the make up of the forward pack. Kidwell is also missing Tohu Harris and Ben Matulino to injury, as well suspended duo Jesse Bromwich and Kevin Proctor.

Former captain Simon Mannering has retained his place in the squad, while Kidwell talked up the threat of Raiders young gun Joseph Tapine on the edge and Kenny Bromwich's work rate.

There is plenty of excitement around Melbourne giant Asofa-Solomona, whose impact off the bench was a highlight during Storm's run to the premiership.

Joined by the likes of captain Adam Blair, Russell Packer and Martin Taupau, New Zealand convenor of selectors Tawera Nikau is adamant they can still more than hold their own upfront.

"If you look at the players that aren't there, we've probably got a whole forward pack that is missing. But we still have a competitive side that is 100 per cent focused," Nikau said. 

"We definitely still have a team that we believe is going to be very competitive at this World Cup."

 - Stuff

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