Eastwood set for Gillette Four Nations bow

Greg Eastwood will make his first appearance in the Gillette Four Nations this Saturday as the World Champions take on France in Toulouse.

Warriors second rower Ben Matulino will become Kiwi No 756 when he makes his Test debut off the bench in the Kiwis’ second Four Nations match against France at Stade Ernest Wallon in Toulouse on Saturday night.

With first-choice second rower Bronson Harrison (calf injury) ruled out, Kiwi coach Stephen Kearney today named St Helens-bound Sydney Roosters utility Iosia Soliola as a starting back rower and brought Matulino in to take Soliola’s bench spot.

The run-on combination is otherwise unchanged from the one that began the side’s first Four Nations encounter with the Kangaroos in London last weekend.

Eastwood comes in for front rower Jeff Lima, also sidelined with a calf injury picked up against Australia last week.

Matulino’s selection is another endorsement of New Zealand rugby league’s domestic pathways, establishing him as the first locally-produced player out of the NRL’s two-year-old National Youth Competition to graduate to the international stage for one of the game’s top Test-playing nations.

Manly’s Jared Waerea-Hargreaves (20) became the first NYC player to make his Test debut when he took the field against Tonga in Rotorua on October 14 but he switched to rugby league only recently after a background in rugby union.

Matulino (20), educated at St Bernard’s College, is a genuine New Zealand rugby league product who started playing the game for the Te Aroha Eels in Wellington before joining Kiwi coach Stephen Kearney’s old club, Randwick.

Impressing at age group level, he was signed by the Warriors, starting last season as a key player for the Junior Warriors in the inaugural NYC before earning promotion to the club’s NRL side. He went to make 15 first-grade appearances and was named the Warriors’ 2008 NRL Young Player of the Year.

“It’s terrific to see Ben having his opportunity to play Test football so early in his career. He has worked really hard ever since we’ve been in camp and deserves his chance,” said Kearney.

“He made an immediate impression when he broke into first-grade last year and now he goes up to another level again.

“It’s great for him and for his family but it’s also encouraging for the game in New Zealand as a whole because it shows what local players can achieve.”

Another example in the Four Nations squad is Warriors fullback-winger Kevin Locke. Signed out of the Northcote club in Auckland, he played NYC football both last year and again in 2009. Apart from Matulino, Waera-Hargreaves and Locke, Manly’s Auckland-born Kieran Foran is the other player in the touring party who has been used at NYC level in both 2008 and 2009.

While pleased with Matulino’s promotion, Kearney said he was also thrilled Soliola would now have a starting role after his form as a bench player against Tonga and Australia.

“While it’s disappointing for Bronson and for us that he won’t be able to play this week, Sia has done a fantastic job off the bench in the last two weeks. That made it easy for us,” he said.

“We’re also without Jeff (Lima) but, again, we’re able bring Greg (Eastwood) back to cover that position.”

He said Harrison and Lima were both recovering well from their injuries.

In confirming the Kiwis’ line-up today, Kearney named Jason Nightingale as 18th man and Kieran Foran as 19th man.

He has warned the players that beating France on home soil is a difficult mission.

“You only have to look at Tests the Kiwis have played here against the French in recent years,” said Kearney.

“We need to be mindful about working to improve in a lot of areas of our game and being concerned with getting our preparation right to give us every chance of putting together the sort of performance that will be required.”

Two years ago the Kiwis beat France 22-14 in Paris. Of the team that played that night only Sam Perrett, Thomas Leuluai and Fuifui Moimoi will line up on Saturday.

The Kiwis had a day-off today. They reconvene tomorrow for their final training run at the Test venue in the afternoon followed by their traditional Test dinner later at their base, the Crowne Plaza Hotel.

The referee on Saturday night is Australia’s Shayne Hayne.

1 LANCE HOHAIA  (Warriors)
2 SAM PERRETT (Sydney Roosters)
4 JUNIOR SA’U (Newcastle)
6 BENJI MARSHALL (c) (Wests Tigers)
7 NATHAN FIEN (St George Illawarra)
8 FRANK-PAUL NUUAUSALA (Sydney Roosters)
10 FUIFUI MOIMOI (Parramatta)
11 ADAM BLAIR (Melbourne)
13 IOSIA SOLIOLA (Sydney Roosters)
14 ISSAC LUKE (South Sydney)
15 GREG EASTWOOD (Bulldogs)
16 BEN MATULINO (Warriors)
18 JASON NIGHTINGALE (St George Illawarra)