The Warriors should take heed when the Knights number 11 barrels at them today.

The last time Zeb Taia had a heads-up from Kiwis coach Stephen Kearney he went off like King Kong in New York, helping Newcastle destroy the Broncos 30-22 in April.

On that occasion Taia played his first full 80 minutes of the season offloading, tackling and shrugging off opponents. It earned him the Kiwis jersey he missed last year through a shoulder reconstruction.

Since the Anzac test in May, a rib and medial ligament problem has affected his form. Only in the last few games has he returned to his robust best, notably saving a couple of tries on the line in his game-high 47 tackles when the Knights were thrashed 52-18 by the Raiders.

It will not have helped that he has been on a largely losing team. Newcastle, placed 10th, now have only a slim chance of making the play-offs.

Kearney has spoken again. He says the 25-year-old has plenty to prove from what he has seen in the second half of the season.

"It has not gone as well as the start [of the season] for Zeb. There was a pretty ordinary patch at one stage. Fortunately his form over the last few weeks has picked up, in line with the performance of his team. I'm well aware of what he is capable of - just look at his strong Anzac test workload.

"However the back row is one area we have depth with Frank-Paul Nu'uausala running wider rather than just up the middle for the Roosters as well as the Warriors' Ben Matulino and Simon Mannering, and the Storm's Adam Blair and Sika Manu."

Bronson Harrison should also be part of that mix with 20 straight 80-minute performances this season in the second row for the Raiders.

Knights coach Rick Stone is counting on Taia to step up.

"Zeb's a good listener and learner. He is articulate and professional about his game. He's learnt to be a hard marker. This is a time where his experience [69 first grade games] is valuable as the only strike back-rower we've got left after Steve Simpson's retirement [last week] and Cory Paterson's shoulder reconstruction."

Matulino played with Taia in the Anzac test and against him in the round 14 win over the Knights by the Warriors.

"He's a good all-round player whether he's passing, running or tackling. There's never just a dud run when he gets the ball. He regularly breaks the line which is something we've got to look out for, along with his short passing game.

"He's developed that well over the last couple of years - it can sting you."

John Zebulon Taia - the Zebulon comes from the name of an Israeli tribe descended from the sixth son of Jacob in the Bible - has not heard from Kearney since the Anzac test, but has still taken his advice.

"It's been an up-and-down season but the last four games I've played 80 minutes and have slowly got my fitness back.

"Making the Kiwis was on my mind 4-5 weeks ago but I've got my priorities back to thinking solely about the Knights. If the Four Nations happens, that's a bonus because I still need to get my form to where it has been.

"At this stage last year I was getting confident week-by-week and matching it with some big names. It made me realise I could play test footy."

Taia had the option of declaring his New South Wales allegiance for State of Origin but would rather play for the Kiwis. He was born in New Zealand and went to Australia as a toddler.

"My decision was based around Mum and Dad who followed New Zealand, so that's who I followed."

Taia is of Cook Islands origin where he has become a bit of a folk hero, fronting a government tourism campaign to help out a parliamentarian uncle.

"He's made me an ambassador for tourism to try to get people there from Australia and New Zealand. I just put word around that it's a fun place to go through word-of-mouth and some ads in various papers."

For now Taia will settle for simply getting his NRL team back to Australia and into the play-offs.