HERMAN Ese’ese could be on the verge of making his New Zealand Test debut after three of his major rivals dropped out of contention for the historic clash with England in Denver, Colorado.
Kiwi selectors will name their squad on Sunday for the June 24 Test, and their front-row options have been depleted by injury to Jesse Bromwich (hamstring) and the representative retirements this week of Wests Tigers duo Ben Matulino and Russell Packer.
Bromwich (24 Tests) and Matulino (23 Tests) are two of New Zealand’s most experienced props, while Packer (seven Tests) was a mainstay in their World Cup campaign last year.
In their absence, Newcastle’s Ese’ese will be competing with the likes of Adam Blair (Warriors), Nelson Asofa-Solomona (Melbourne), Jared Waerea-Hargeaves (Roosters) and Manly duo Martin Taupau and Addin Fonua-Blake for his first black-and-white jersey.
The 23-year-old has been consistently impressive since joining the Knights from Brisbane at the start of this season, and a strong showing against Melbourne’s formidable pack at McDonald Jones Stadium on Sunday would only help his cause.
“Herman’s been great,” Knights coach Nathan Brown said of Ese’ese, who is averaging almost 125 metres and 30 tackles per game this season.
“He’s obviously a really important part of our team now and where we’re trying to get to in the future.
“He’s a real prototype sort of forward these days. He’s got good size and he’s got great leg speed … a bit will depend on who’s available for the Kiwis.
“I’d like to think at some stage Herman will play for New Zealand. I definitely think he’s capable of that.”
Ese’ese might not be the only Novocastrian named by new Kiwis coach Michael Maguire. Slade Griffin and Danny Levi are both likely to be candidates for the dummy-half role, along with Warriors veteran Issac Luke.
Luke, 31, played the last of his 40 Tests more than 12 months ago and was not selected for the World Cup, at which Levi played four Tests.
Levi is the incumbent but has been superceded as Newcastle’s starting No.9 by former Melbourne grand final winner Slade Griffin.
Griffin’s defence would appear ideally suited to Test football, and he is versatile enough to play as a utility forward off the bench.