Joey Manu on how a Kiwis World Cup win could help them take on the All Blacks

New Zealand’s rugby league team could be in the right place at the right time to challenge the All Blacks for sporting dominance in Aotearoa – with Kiwis star Joey Manu backing the team to boost the profile of the sport with a win the UK in November.

With the All Blacks struggling on the field, the Black Caps on a downward turn and the flagbearers for league in the country, the New Zealand Warriors, finally home after three years in exile, the stage is set for unprecedented cut-through for rugby league in New Zealand.

“I hope so,” he said when asked by The Roar‘s Rugby League World Cup podcast, World Cup Chasers, if the stage was set to take on the ABs.

“Rugby is always pretty dominant over in New Zealand, but if we do what we set out to achieve then it’ll definitely bring a bit of light onto New Zealand rugby league and where we want the game to head.

“In New Zealand, there’s a lot of talent and a lot of younger kids playing. If we do that, we can see what we can do, it’ll make it a lot bigger.”

Manu is one of the code’s biggest stars and will be the talisman for the Kiwis, where he will start at the back instead of his usual berth in the centres with the Sydney Roosters, where Kangaroos fullback James Tedesco has a hold on the number 1 jersey.

Manu missed the Roosters’ final game of the season with a calf injury but will be back fit and firing for the World Cup.

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He was the undisputed star of the Kiwis’ midseason win over Tonga, which marked the return of elite rugby league to New Zealand after a long Covid-induced hiatus.

The fullback was joined in the spine by the Melbourne Storm duo of halfback Jahrome Hughes and hooker Brandon Smith, plus one of the breakout stars of the 2022 NRL, Parramatta five eighth Dylan Brown, for one of the best playmaking combinations in international footy.

“I enjoy playing fullback,” he said. “It’s one of the most dominant roles in the game at the moment and you get a lot of touches on the ball. You create plays.

“In the Kiwis jersey, it’s pretty special because there’s a lot of other good players in the spine and it’s good team to run on the back of.

“(Coach Michael Maguire) talks about our spine and keeping it strong. If you look at the other players, with Brandon playing around the middle and the other two at the top of their positions in the comp this year, I think it’s key.”

The unique draw of the Rugby League World Cup for NRL stars who don’t get to play State of Origin will be the chance to square off against mates – with Manu and Roosters’ teammate Luke Keary set for a date in the group stages as New Zealand taking on Ireland.

“He’s already spoken about playing for Ireland so it’ll be a nice warm up game!” joked Manu. “I’m looking forward to it, we have a few boys playing for different teams and I think it’ll be cool playing overseas and catching up after the game.”

World Cup Chasers is our new Rugby League World Cup podcast and will be released weekly all the way through to the final at Old Trafford in November.

It features exclusive interviews, plus expert analysis from The Roar rugby league writers Mike Meehall Wood and Mary Konstantopolous, as well as Michael Carbone from Chasing Kangaroos, the original international rugby league podcast.

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