New Zealand have welcomed Melbourne halfback Jahrome Hughes for their final group stage match of the Rugby League World Cup.
Hughes has been sidelined since the start of the tournament with a thigh injury, but will return for Friday’s (AEDT Saturday) encounter with Ireland.
It’s a necessary boost for coach Michael Maguire as the knockout stage approaches, with combinations crucial in the run-up to a likely semi-final with Australia.
Hughes returns to partner Dylan Brown, with Jared Waerea-Hargreaves named to make his comeback from suspension from the bench.
Moses Leota (chest) and Marata Niukore (hamstring) will sit outside this week, while Maguire’s first-choice wing combination of Ronaldo Mulitalo and Jordan Rapana returns to the side.
Cronulla back-rower Brit Nikora will play in the center and Nelson Asofa-Solomona will start in the back row.
Joey Manu, Ronaldo Mulitalo, Brit Nikora, Peta Hiku, Jordan Rapana, Dylan Brown, Jahrome Hughes, Jesse Bromwich, Brandon Smith, James Fisher-Harris, Kenny Bromwich, Nelson Asofa-Solomona, Joe Tapine. Exchange: Isaiah Papali’i, Kieran Foran, Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, Isaac Liu. Reserves: Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad, Scott Sorensen.