SYDNEY - Melbourne Storm captain Stephen Kearney will become the first New Zealander to play 250 first-grade games in the Australian rugby league premierships when his team play Newcastle tonight. Last season Kearney, a Kiwis test veteran, overtook Daryl Halligan as the longest-serving New Zealander in the Australian premiership.

Kearney said he wanted to celebrate by leading the Storm to its first win ever in Newcastle.

"The best way to savour a milestone is with your team-mates after a win, so if we can go up there and play to our ability, I'll be pleased with that," he said.

Kearney has played 124 matches for Melbourne and is the longest-serving player on their roster.

"It's a bit more special I suppose seeing as I'm the first New Zealander to reach 250 games and I'm definitely very proud to be the one doing that.

"When I started out it was a week-by-week proposition, I was just happy to be playing first-grade.

"Now 12 seasons later I'm still playing and still enjoying it so I'm certainly very pleased with the record."

The Storm second-rower's career has spanned more than a decade.

He has played for three NRL clubs and also notched 45 tests for New Zealand.

Kearney, 31, comes off his contract at the end of the year and plans to make his future intentions clear in a few weeks.

He made his first-grade debut with Wests in 1992, later joining the then Auckland Warriors before shifting to the Storm in 1999.

* Former Levin schoolboy Jack Afamasaga, who two years ago was a student at Waiopehu College, makes his debut off the bench for the Eels in their match against the Tigers tomorrow.

The 19-year-old made numerous age grade Horowhenua rugby and league teams and was selected for the Hurricanes schoolboys team in 2001.

His potential came to the attention of former Kiwi international Mark Horo when he toured New Zealand in 2002 as coach of a Parramatta under-16 team.

The Parramatta team played a Manawatu under-18 comprising mostly Levin schoolboys at the Levin Domain.

Although they lost that night, Afamasaga had impressed Horo and the Parramatta coaching staff enough for them to exchange phone numbers and offer him an airfare and a position with an age-grade team in the club.

Two years later he has broken into the premier Parramatta NRL team as a second rower.

Afamasaga returned home to Levin for a holiday this time last year and was promptly called into the Horowhenua-Kapiti NPC rugby trial where he produced a standout performance.

Then-Horowhenua coach Peter Kemp commented that he was impressed with Afamasaga at centre and he was approached to see if there was a chance that he would stay in New Zealand.

But Afamasaga was obliged to return to Australia and finish the league season there.


- NZPA