Marshall and Foran remain in Kiwis squad

Benji Marshall and Kieran Foran are still in line for a return to New Zealand rugby league Test duty after being included in a trimmed-down Kiwis squad to prepare to play Tonga next weekend.

The veteran halves are in a 19-strong group announced by coach Michael Maguire, with regular five-eighth Kodi Nikorima having been ruled out of contention by the Warriors.

Maguire confirmed Dallin Watene-Zelezniak will retain the captaincy, even though a shift to the wing or centres looms following the return to availability of star fullback Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, who missed all of last year's five Tests.

Veteran hooker Issac Luke is in the group of eight players cut from the 27-man group unveiled midweek ahead of Saturday's clash in Auckland.

Luke won a premiership with Maguire at Souths but the coach has shunned sentiment, leaving Brandon Smith as his only starting hooker option.

The halves represent an intriguing dilemma for Maguire, who fielded Shaun Johnson and Nikorima through most of last year.

Johnson has just returned from a hamstring injury at Cronulla and, if picked, will link with one of either Marshall or Foran, who have both starred previously for the Kiwis and played more than 20 Tests each.

Former skipper Marshall, 34, hasn't played a Test since 2012, having been unwanted by previous coaches Stephen Kearney and David Kidwell despite consistently expressing a desire to wear the black jersey again.

Bulldogs star Foran has played one Test in the last four years, his prospects not aided by off-field problems.

Three uncapped candidates are Cronulla second-rower Briton Nikora, Melbourne fullback Jahrome Hughes and Sydney Roosters forward Zane Tetevano, who was named for last year's tour of England but was later ruled out with injury.

The three backs omitted by Maguire are Jamayne Isaako, Jordan Rapana and Nikorima. Brisbane winger Isaako was subsequently confirmed in the Samoa team to face Papua New Guinea in Sydney on Saturday.

The forwards to miss the cut are Luke, Joseph Tapine, Isaiah Papali'i, Martin Taupau and the uncapped Aganatius Paasi.

Manly prop Taupau announced an allegiance switch to Samoa midweek while the NZ Rugby League said Canberra had made both Rapana and Tapine unavailable for selection.


Backs: Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, Jahrome Hughes, Dallin Watene-Zelezniak, Ken Maumalo, Esan Marsters, Joseph Manu, Kieran Foran, Shaun Johnson, Benji Marshall,

Forwards: James Fisher-Harrs, Zane Tetevano, Isaac Liu, Briton Nikora, Kenny Bromwich, Leeson Ah Mau, Nelson Asofa-Solomona, Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, Jesse Bromwich, Brandon Smith.