KNIGHTS tyro Danny Levi feels like “brand new” after spinal surgery and is ready for a season he hopes will culminate in New Zealand selection at next year’s World Cup.
Levi, the dummy-half dynamo who turns 21 on Monday, played in 18 games last season but a protruding disc pressing on a nerve in his back meant he was often battling the pain barrier.
Two weeks before Newcastle’s last game of 2016, he underwent repairs that have allowed him to resume full training and given him a fighting chance of starting next year in Newcastle’s No.9 jersey, despite competition from new signing Rory Kostjasyn, versatile Tyler Randell and possibly veteran Jarrod Mullen.
“I feel like I’ve got a completely whole new back,’’ Levi told the Newcastle Herald.
“I haven’t got any pain in there. I’m feeling brand new.
“Straight after [the surgery], I was sore as. I was a bit worried, thinking they might have got the wrong spot or something. But about a week later, the pain had disappeared, although I was still a bit stiff.
“Two or three weeks later, I was able to start training and came back completely fresh. I was pretty sore in a few of the games last year, but I’ve got no excuse now and just have to go my hardest.’’
Levi said the injury initially flared in unusual circumstances.
“Before round one last year, I had a bit of a sore back and I was stupid enough to lift furniture because I was moving house,’’ he recalled.
“I woke up the next morning and could hardly walk.
“It just gradually got worse throughout the year.’’
His surgery cost him a likely spot in the Kiwi squad for the recent Four Nations tournament in England.
A Wellington junior, Levi was called into the New Zealand camp as a standby player for the mid-season Test against Australia in Newcastle and was shaping as Issac Luke’s understudy for the tour of England.
“I had to get ruled out [of the Four Nations],’’ Levi said.
“I got a text asking if I would be eligible for selection and had to tell them no, which was pretty gutting.
“If I was fit, I might have been in the mix, although I don’t know if I would been picked.
“But it’s a World Cup year coming up, and hopefully if I’m good enough, I can get selected for it.’’
Knights coach Nathan Brown said Kostjasyn, Levi and Randell were vying for Newcastle’s dummy-half duties and Mullen – currently nursing a hamstring injury – would also be considered after his impressive stopgap game in the last-round loss to St George Illawarra.
“It was an area where we lacked a bit of depth last year and we had a lot of people play there,’’ Brown said.
“We’ve got two really experienced players [Kostjasyn and Mullen], Danny’s obviously a development player and we’ve got Tyler Randell as well.
“So we’re far stronger in that position, which is pleasing.’’
Levi has welcomed the arrival of Kostjasyn, whose 126-game NRL career was highlighted by playing in North Queensland’s 2015 grand final triumph.
“It’s good that that he’s come in,’’ Levi said.
“The Cowboys are one of the top sides, so he’s got a lot of knowledge and it’s awesome that he can pass that on and help my game.’’
Levi said the competition for a position would spur him on.
“I definitely have to step up and show this pre-season that I really, really want that job,’’ he said. “I’m not too worried about what Browny is going to do with everyone else. I just have to make sure I’m busting my arse to show I want the job.’’