NUGGETY Knights game breaker Tafeaga "Junior" Sau is on the cusp of completing a phenomenal rise from $10,000-a-year project player to New Zealand international.
Less than two years since arriving from Canberra's lower grades, when former Knights coach Brian Smith threw the Auckland-born centre a career lifeline, Sau will make his Test debut at 6am tomorrow (AEDT) when the World Cup champions play Australia in the Four Nations tournament at The Stoop, west London.
Named after his father, but known by his nickname, 22-year-old Sau will become the first Knights player in 16 years to represent New Zealand in a Test.
His first Test should be made more memorable by the fact he lines up against club captain Kurt Gidley, who will come off the bench in his fifth Test appearance for the Kangaroos.
The last man to represent the Kiwis in a Test while playing for Newcastle was utility back Tony Kemp, who played the second and third games of the 1993 trans-Tasman series against an Australian side containing Knights teammate Paul Harragon.
"For Junior, it's been a couple of years of hard work and real belief in his own ability," said Knights coach Rick Stone, who has sent Sau and Gidley congratulatory text messages. "He's proven himself consistently for a bit over a season now, so to get his chance to play in a Test match, he's come a massive way from the small contract he was on when Smithy gave him an opportunity from Canberra.
"He's worked really hard, he's sourced coaches, sourced information, he's learned and he's studied his opposition, so he's got to the stage where he is now pretty much through hard work on his own, so full credit to him.
"I'll be interested to see what side he plays, with Steve Matai being a specialist left-side player and Junior preferring the left, so I wonder whether he's going to mark Greg Inglis or Justin Hodges.
"It's a big test regardless of who he ends up on."
Stone said Gidley was too "highly strung" to enjoy sitting on the bench for too long but his versatility made him an obvious choice for Australian coach Tim Sheens.
"Let's hope Kurt gets a bit of time," he said.
"Sheensy's got the most versatile player in the game; a bloke who can play hooker, lock, six, seven, centre, fullback, possibly wing pretty much all of those spots fairly comfortably.
"He'd be one of the first players picked on the bench.
"The way he plays for the Knights and what he did for NSW this year, he's shown that he's grown in stature and confidence and leadership.
"Hopefully he'll enjoy his tour and come back a more complete player again."