Thomas Leuluai is confident New Zealand have the experience to cover for the exodus of high-profile stars.
The Kiwis were rocked after Jason Taumalolo – one of the game’s most destructive forwards – opted to play for minnows Tonga in the World Cup.
Kiwis Manu Ma’u, Sio Siua Taukieaho and David Fusitu’a, as well as Australia’s Andrew Fifita, also defected to the tier two nation.
And given New Zealand were already without captain Jesse Bromwich and forward Kevin Proctor, who were banned for a cocaine controversy in mid-season, they look significantly weaker as they prepare for their opener against Samoa.
But Leuluai, 32, says they still have the talent and experience to thrive in the competition.
“We’ve still got a lot of experience there, too,” he told a press conference yesterday.
“It doesn’t feel like we’re missing experience, at training and that – the talk is still there.
“Obviously the guys who are missing, we would have loved to have had them.
“But the guys stepping in have played NRL for three or four seasons, they’re professional and they know their roles.
“It’s about us coming together, that’s more of the challenge.”
Leuluai, the only Super League player in the Kiwis squad, will win his 39th cap this weekend after being named in David Kidwell’s squad.
Usually a scrum-half with Wigan, he will start at hooker in Auckland on Saturday (kick-off 8.10am, UK time). They later have group games against Scotland and Tonga.
Meanwhile Kyle Shelford, who made one first-team appearance with Wigan in 2016, has joined Championship outfit Swinton.