Likiliki playing for Knights future in Pacific showdown

 KNIGHTS centre Siuatonga Likiliki will play for his family and his future when he lines up for Tonga against Samoa in the Pacific Test at Centrebet Stadium on Saturday night. 

After undergoing reconstructive surgery on his left knee last October, Likiliki returned early to play his first game of the season in Newcastle’s 42-28 victory over Windsor Wolves in the NSW Cup game at Hunter Stadium last Saturday.

That was enough to convince Tongan selectors he was up to the rigours of a full-blown international against their Samoan arch rivals. 

Likiliki will line up against former Knights team-mate Junior Sa’u, who will start in the centres for Samoa.

‘‘They said six months and next week was meant to be six months but I got back early. After my surgery, when I was back running, I told my coaches I was a fast healer,’’ Likiliki told the Newcastle Herald  from the Tongan team’s training camp on Thursday.

‘‘The week’s been good; getting to know everyone. Training’s been good and we’ve been learning more about the depth and history and the heritage of our culture.’’

After scoring a try and playing a leading role in the Warriors’ 42-28 victory over Souths in the 2010 National Youth Cup grand final, and being named in the NYC team of the year, much was expected of Likiliki when he joined the Knights on a two-year deal at the end of that season.

But he battled injuries and was restricted to just two NRL games in the past two years, and his knee surgery meant the Knights only signed him to a one-year extension.

The Test will be screened live on Fox Sports tonight so he hopes to shine in the spotlight to convince Wayne Bennett, or another NRL coach, that he is worth signing to a new deal.

The father of nine-month-old twin sons Kruz and Paxton, Likiliki feels settled in Newcastle and  hopes to call the Hunter home for as long as he can.

‘‘I was grateful that Wayne wanted to keep me and re-sign me again, so I could keep learning under him. This is my last year so I’m just trying to play my best every week,’’ he said.

‘‘This will be good to play against other NRL players and in a team with a lot of NRL players from other teams and take that experience back to the Knights.’’

Likiliki, who represented Tonga in the 2009 Pacific Cup while playing for the Warriors, was pleasantly surprised to learn he had been named in the team to play Samoa tonight.

‘‘I did my knee in the second to last game for the Knights last year, then had surgery in October, so I’ve been doing rehab and training hard since then,’’ he said.

‘‘I’m thankful that I got back on the field last weekend and I’m lucky to have a great opportunity to be selected to play for Tonga and represent my country and my family.’’

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