KNIGHTS tyro Danny Levi is set to be one of the main beneficiaries when New Zealand announce on Thursday a new-look, vastly depleted squad for the end-of-season rugby league World Cup.
Levi, the 21-year-old from Wellington, is expected to be one of two hookers named in the Kiwi squad, along with Wigan utility Thomas Leuluai.
Long-serving Issac Luke, a veteran of 37 Tests, is reported to have been dropped after a disappointing season with the Warriors.
Levi has played in 49 games for the Knights, including all 24 this season, and established himself as one of the most promising dummy-halves in the NRL.
He was named last season as a standby player for the Kiwis in the lead-up to the mid-season Anzac Test and was considered a candidate for the 2016 Four Nations tournament, only to be ruled out with a neck injury that required surgery.
Now the Junior Kiwis representative seems certain to wear a black-and-white jersey at senior level.
He will become only the sixth Knight chosen to represent New Zealand, after foundation skipper Sam Stewart, Tony Kemp, James Goulding, Junior Sa’u and Zeb Taia.
Newcastle’s other Kiwi contender is 21-Test representative Shaun Kenny-Dowall, who scored four tries in six games after his mid-season switch from the Roosters. He is rated an outside chance.
The Kiwis’ hopes of challenging Australia, however, have been dented by the unavailability of a host of key players.
North Queensland juggernaut Jason Taumalolo – arguably the game’s best forward – has surprisingly chosen to play for Tonga at the World Cup.
Born in Auckland, Taumalolo has played in 10 Tests for the Kiwis but said: “I just feel it's time to give back and hopefully I can assist and inspire young Tongan players to chase their NRL goals ... I have and will always be proud to wear the Kiwis Jersey. I just feel the World Cup provides developing nations like Tonga an opportunity to play on the big stage and I would like to help them with their campaign.”
Taumalolo’s decision was compounded by news that Melbourne grand final hero Tohu Harris had declared himself unavailable because of shoulder and foot injuries.
Playmaker Kieran Foran has also opted to miss the tournament, preferring to rest some niggling injuries and focus on having a strong pre-season with his new club, Canterbury.
Senior forwards Jesse Bromwich (Melbourne) and Kevin Proctor (Gold Coast) have been overlooked for selection after the post-Anzac Test scandal when they were filmed snorting cocaine outside a Canberra nightclub.
Meanwhile, Knights co-captain Sione Mata’utia is still waiting for confirmation that he will be able to represent Samoa at the World Cup.
The back-rower has undergone a series of tests and scans after missing the last two games of the regular season because of concussion.
Samoa will name their squad on Thursday and Sione and his brother Peter are both expected to be in it.