NO-NONSENSE Knights toiler Zeb Taia is comfortable with his decision to pledge allegiance to New Zealand, even though it killed off any hope of playing State of Origin for NSW.
In a parallel universe, Taia, not Knights teammate Chris Houston, could have joined the NSW squad on Monday as 19th man for Origin III in Brisbane last night.
Taia was born and raised in Sydney, but his parents, Tepe and Terekino, were born in the New Zealand-affiliated Cook Islands, so when he had to declare his representative aspirations this year he chose black before blue.
That was around the time City selectors enquired about 24-year-old Taia's origins and Knights coach Brian Smith advised him to make up his mind.
Since then, New Zealand Test coach Stephen Kearney has told Taia and Smith that the hard-hitting back-rower is in the frame for the Kiwis' Quad Nations squad in November.
"I talked to Zeb about it earlier in the year and just said that if he keeps playing like he did last year and keeps improving, at some stage this year or next year, rep footy's a possibility," Smith said.
" . . . So he went home and had a real good chat to his family about it and they reached a decision very quickly that New Zealand is his family's home, and he felt very strongly about it, so he's not having second thoughts about it at all."
Switching between the back row and five-eighth after the early departure of Jarrod Mullen against Canberra at EnergyAustralia Stadium last Saturday, Taia made 26 tackles and ran 18 times for 152 metres in Newcastle's 23-4 victory.
He has made 11 line breaks this year more than any other forward and equal with the likes of Billy Slater, Josh Morris and Nathan Merritt and his overall statistics compare favourably with those of NSW lock Anthony Watmough (see attached graphic).
But as much as he would have loved a chance to play Origin, his eyes are firmly fixed on a Kiwi Test jersey at the end of the season.
"I'm happy with my decision. Growing up, I supported New Zealand as a kid, my family are New Zealand supporters and Mum and Dad were brought up there," Taia said.
"They came over here and I was born here, but that's where my family's from, so that's why I made that decision on behalf of them.
"Smithy asked me to choose what path to go down because the City selectors were sort of interested, but I didn't know if my name would ever get thrown up there.
"But that's when I made my decision to go with New Zealand, and I've still got a goal to make that squad at the end of the year for the Quad Series.
"Stephen Kearney rang me up a little while ago and told me I was in the picture, but he said he's not promising me anything. He just said if I kick on I might find myself there, but he didn't promise me anything and said he was just looking at me."
Smith spoke to Kearney, Melbourne's assistant coach, about Taia's progress and off-field profile after Newcastle's 18-14 loss to the Storm 11 days ago.
"Like any good rep coach, Steve was just asking questions about what his [Taia's] club coach thought about how he's developing and finding out a bit more about him," Smith said.
"When you're not a player's club coach, all you see really is his football potential and how he's performing rather than all the things that make him up as a bloke and how he gets on with people, so Steve was just looking for a bit more of a picture."
Taia has played 47 of a possible 51 games since arriving from Parramatta midway through 2007 then making his Knights debut against Souths on June 29 that year.
He was sidelined for four matches recovering from a knee injury suffered against the Eels on August 4 last year, then returned for their last-round loss to Brisbane.