NEWCASTLE hooker Danny Levi says it makes no difference to him who else is in the team – he will still feel honoured to make his Test rugby league debut for New Zealand at the World Cup.
Levi, the 21-year-old dummy-half dynamo, was chosen on Thursday by the Kiwis for the 13-man code’s biggest international tournament.
The announcement of the 24-man squad was notable more for the players who declared themselves unavailable than those who were selected.
Superstar North Queensland lock Jason Taumalolo stunned the Kiwis on Wednesday when he switched allegiances to Tonga, followed soon after by Sio Siua Taukeiaho (Roosters), David Fusitu’a (Warriors) and Manu Ma’u (Parramatta). In addition, Melbourne premiership winner Tohu Harris and Canterbury’s star signing, Kieran Foran, have been ruled out with injuries, and 37-Test veteran Issac Luke has been dropped for form reasons.
Former Kiwis skipper Jesse Bromwich and Kevin Proctor have been ruled ineligible after their much-publicised indiscretion involving cocaine after the mid-season Anzac Test in Canberra five months ago.
All of which matters little to Levi, who will become the sixth Newcastle player to represent New Zealand, following in the footsteps of Sam Stewart, Tony Kemp, James Goulding, Junior Sa’u and Zeb Taia.
“It’s not for me to talk about anyone else,” Levi told the Newcastle Herald.
“I’m just lucky enough to be in the squad. Whoever is in the team, I’m sure they’ll do an awesome job.
“They’ve picked some great players and I’m just looking forward to playing with them. There’s been a lot of talk about the guys dropping out and all that, but I’m sure with the attitude that Kiwis have, we’ll be fine.”
New Zealand coach David Kidwell said at a press conference Levi had been preferred to his childhood idol, Luke, because he had outperformed him over the course of the season.
“He’s played really consistently for Newcastle and we’ve gone with some youth there,” Kidwell said, adding that he had a “robust discussion” with Luke to explain his omission.
Levi has represented New Zealand under-18s and the Junior Kiwis and was a standby player for last year’s Anzac Test.
He was in line to make his Test debut during last year’s Four Nations tournament but was ruled out after requiring back surgery.
“It’s something that’s been a big goal of mine since I was a kid,” he said of representing his country.
“For it to come true, it’s a bit surreal. I’m just privileged to be in there and hopefully I can get some game time. I’m just looking forward to it.”
After playing in all 24 of Newcastle’s games this year, Levi said he had continued to train throughout the off-season to maintain his fitness levels.
“I pretty much haven’t stopped, to be honest,” he said.
“We’ve had a couple of sessions in Sydney as well, with the Sydney-based Kiwis as well, and I’ve been doing a bit myself.”
Levi’s selection is a reward for perseverance.
The Randwick Kingfishers product left home to play juniors for Penrith and the Roosters before he had joined 18, eventually heading home to Wellington without a contract.
He was snapped up by Newcastle in 2013, captaining Newcastle’s under-20s to the minor premiership a year later. He debuted in the NRL as a 19-year-old, and now shapes as a long-term fixture, having signed until the end of 2020.
“It’s been pretty tough, as a club,” he said, reflecting on his 49 NRL games.
“I think we have definitely improved but maybe the ladder doesn’t show that.
“For me personally, I think I had a pretty good year and I’m just real happy to get this opportunity.”