The strength shown in New Zealand's Bartercard Cup competition is reflected in the selections this week of a New Zealand 'A' team. The team will face New South Wales Country at North Harbour Stadium on July 4, at 2.30pm.
Competition leaders Marist Richmond Brothers have been rewarded with the most players chosen for the A team. Four of the Brothers make the line-up - Ricky Henry, Kurt Cawdron, Henry Turua and Bernie Perenara.
Also second in the Bartercard competition, the Mt Albert Lions is represented by two players in Rowan Baxter and Steve Buckingham, who will captain the A team.
Canterbury Bulls forwards Andrew Auimatagi, Sam Wallace and Chris Newton will also play. The Bulls currently lie third in the competition.
They are effectively one step away from attracting the serious attention of NRL clubs, with a plethora of talent scouts expected to be at North Harbour Stadium on July 4.
The A team is:
Daniel Floyd (Hibiscus Coast Raiders) Karl Johnson (North Harbour Tigers) Paul Fisi'iahi (Otahuhu-Ellerslie) Ricky Henry (Marist-Richmond Brothers) Rowan Baxter (Mt Albert Lions) Steve Buckingham (c), (Mt Albert Lions) Aoterangi Herangi (Counties-Manukau Jetz) Kurt Cawdron (Marist-Richmond Brothers) Andrew Auimatagi (Canterbury Bulls) Shannon Stowers (Hibiscus Coast Raiders) Sam Wallace (Canterbury Bulls) Henry Turua (Marist-Richmond Brothers) Frank-Paul Nuuausala (Otahuhu-Ellerslie).
Bernie Perenara (Marist-Richmond Brothers) Chris Newton (Canterbury Bulls) Lee Tamatoa (Glenora Bears) Ben Valeni (Glenora Bears)
Nine players have also been placed on stand-by via their Bartercard Cup franchises, to cover potential injuries arising from Round 9 of the Bartercard Cup this weekend and an Auckland Representative game on Tuesday, June 29.
Some of the squad may meet Country twice in a week, for Auckland at Ericsson Stadium No 2 at 7.30pm on Tuesday, then again for New Zealand A on Sunday, July 4.
NSW Country are touring with an under-18 representative team that will play curtain-raisers against Auckland U18 (Ericsson No.2 29 June 5.45pm) and Wellington U18 (North Harbour Stadium, 4 July 12.50pm).
Wellington U18 have held the National Junior Competition Kiwi Cup title for the past two years and the Auckland U18 side represents the best of the region's two Kiwi Cup teams.
These curtainraisers will be a showcase of New Zealand age-group excellence and will be watched closely by the selectors of the 2004 Junior Kiwis in preparation for a tour by the England Under 18 Academy later this year.
The English side will play three games in New Zealand including two Tests against the Junior Kiwis, before heading to Australia for a Test against the Australian Schoolboys.
Last year's Junior Kiwi head coach Tony Benson (Hibiscus Coast Raiders) has been reconfirmed in the role for a second year and is joined by assistant coach and co-selector Leighton Karawana.
Karawana has been the coach of Wellington's Champion Kiwi Cup side for the past two years and, prior to that, took the Wellington U16 side to the 2002 Foundation Cup final.