Dargaville prop Sam McKendry's star continues to rise with his selection into New Zealand Maori side to play the All Golds at New Plymouth's Yarrow Stadium next Sunday.
New Zealand Maori Rugby League chairman Howie Tamati said McKendry was one of a group of former junior Kiwis who had been picked with the expectation that they would go on to become a full internationals.
"What New Zealand Maori League is for many of these boys is a pathway into international football. These kids can play and they've got big futures already in front of them," Tamati said.
The 19-year-old Penrith Panther will join the rest of the Maori side on Tuesday in a build-up for the game by staying on the Turangawaewae Marae at Ngaruawahia as a guest of the Maori king.
"From our perspective, it keeps them connected to New Zealand life," Tamati said.
"Part of the journey for Sam and the other Australian-based players is to develop stronger links with their cultural background, to make them understand the history behind the team and who they're playing for and why. That was really important from our perspective."
The Maori team will also feature departing Warrior back-rower Wairangi Koopu in what could be his last game in New Zealand, as well as three other players with test experience, Shaun Kenny-Dowall, Jason Nightingale and Bronson Harrison.
The match will also farewell Ruben Wiki, Stacey Jones and Logan Swann, but the calibre of the Maori's opposition is extremely high, with the All Golds boasting several players who are expected to be named in the Kiwi World Cup squad.
Kiwi coach Stephen Kearney will be in the crowd at New Plymouth and even the most junior players in the Maori side will want to impress the coach, to lay down their credentials in case of injury in the World Cup squad.
The Northern Advocate was unable to contact McKendry yesterday but his mother, Rae Souter, said he was proud to have been selected for the Maori team, particularly for the sake of his grandfather Maiti Nathan, who passed away last year, and his grandmother Eileen.
"He knows he might not even make it on to the reserves bench for the game but I just told him to make the most of the experience with all those famous players around him, let's hope he does," she said.
The step up into the New Zealand Maori side means less of a break for McKendry this season, with training now continuing at least until the Maori's match against the Australian Indigenous team - the curtain raiser for New Zealand's World Cup opener against Australia.
THE SQUAD
NZ Maori rugby league squad named to play the All Golds in New Plymouth on October 12:
Lee Te Maari (Bulldogs), Anthony Cherrington (Sydney Roosters), Bronson Harrison (Wests Tigers), Weller Hauraki (Parramatta), Ben Ellis (St George Illawarra), Sam McKendry (Penrith), Rangi Chase (St George), Arana Taumata (Melbourne), Jason Nightingale (St George), Wairangi Koopu (Warriors), Shaun Kenny-Dowall (Roosters), Jordan Rapana (Gold Coast), Kevin Locke (Warriors). Interchange: Jared Kahu (Brisbane), Joseph Cahill, (Roosters), Chance Bunce (Cronulla), James Tamou (Roosters), Kevin Proctor (Melbourne).
Coach: Luke Goodwin.