Dean Whare was shocked to just be included in the Kiwis train-on squad so when he was named in the starting side to face Australia in Townsville on Saturday night his surprise was taken to a new level.
Whare is one of three newcomers named in the Kiwis league side, along with Bulldogs prop Sam Kasiano and Melbourne second-rower Kevin Proctor. Kasiano's inclusion was expected after a top NRL season and Proctor has toured with the Kiwis but didn't play. But the 22-year-old Whare, who became a Manly regular this season, was a bolter.
Coach Stephen Kearney has complete faith in Whare and is predicting a big future for the centre.
"He played 20 NRL games this year and I think he performed really, really well in all of them," Kearney said. "With Shaun Kenny-Dowall out injured and Steve Matai missing, it was an opportunity to blood someone and we know he's got the capability and talent. He's young and we feel he can develop into a regular Kiwi centre for us."
Whare, who was born in Rotorua but moved to Australia in 1999, is a former Junior Kiwis and actually broke his leg playing for them. It delayed his first-grade career but he made an immediate impact in his NRL debut in 2010 when he scored a hat-trick against the Cowboys.
He played four NRL games that year but only one in 2011, when Manly beat the Warriors in the grand final, before becoming a regular in 2012.
"Physically I'm definitely ready," he said. "Mentally, I got the opportunity to play with Manly in the playoffs and that will help me prepare for this game. We all have each other's backs and that will help me through that."
It will also help having Manly teammate Kieran Foran beside him on the left edge and Whare believes his combination with Foran was a reason he was chosen.
Australia have an undoubted advantage when it comes to combinations because of State of Origin and it is one of the main reasons why the Kiwis have consistently struggled in one-off tests.
Kearney believes that advantage is narrowing through a consistent selection policy and pointed to the score-lines in the last few Anzac tests. The biggest margin has been 10 points.
"We have the potential and talent in this group that, if we really execute and are disciplined and focused, we have a great opportunity of getting a great result for our country," Kearney said. "We are taking steps forward. We are very confident in the group of players here that we can do a really good job."
Australia v Kiwis
Townsville, 10pm Saturday
Cameron Smith (c)
Australian reserves: Robbie Farah, Ryan Hoffman, David Shillington, Tony Williams.
Benji Marshall (c)
Kiwi reserves: Elijah Taylor, Ben Matulino, Greg Eastwood, Adam Blair.