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Leuluai finally arrives to bolster Kiwis

07/05/2008 07:19:31 PM Comments (0)

New Zealand Test halfback Thomas Leuluai has declared himself fit and ready to go following his 24-hour trip to Sydney for Friday's Centenary Test.

A surprisingly fresh-faced Leuluai trained with his Kiwis teammates for the first time on Wednesday, the Wigan-based No.7 with just two sessions to learn the ropes under new coach Stephen Kearney.

Leuluai was taking it all in his stride, admitting there was little use complaining about the hit and run mission.

"It's not ideal but what can I do about it?" Leuluai said.

"You've just got to get on with it, no excuses, just get as much sleep as you can and get ready for a game."

His opposite number, Australian playmaker Johnathan Thurston, admitted to knowing little about Leuluai's credentials.

But he was also wary of reading too much into the short preparation.

"It wouldn't be ideal but once they put on that jersey they're ten foot tall and bullet proof," Thurston said of the Kiwis.

"Once they've put that jersey on it doesn't matter whether they've had two hours preparation or 48 hours, they're going to be primed for it."

For Leuluai, his 12th Test cap will carry extra significance.

Kearney chased his and fullback Brent Webb's services from England to bolster a young backline, and offered Leuluai an extended run in the vacant No.7 jersey in the World Cup year.

"There aren't many halves out there, I don't know if he's got many choices," Leuluai said with a laugh.

"I respect what Stephen said, I've got a lot of respect for that dude.

"Saying that to me has given me a bit of confidence. I've just got to go out there and be confident - I'm quite happy with my form in the UK."

But striking up a combination with five-eighth Ben Roberts and marshalling an inexperienced back division against the star-studded Australians is another matter.

Leuluai was meeting some of his teammates, including debutants Setaimata Sa and Jason Nightingale, for the first time.

On the other side, Thurston looms large amid a line-up of stars.

"For New Zealand you're always up against one of the best players in the world in the opposition seven jersey. It's been like that ever since I really started," Leuluai said.

"I've just got to do my job with the team, that's all I'm worried about."

Kearney has told Leuluai to keep it simple, and while keen to work with the new Test coach, the 23-year-old said he was also impressed with his first exchange with Wayne Bennett.

"I had a talk to Wayne this morning, he came up and gave us a good Kiwi handshake which was surprising. He's obviously learned that pretty quick," Leuluai said.

"I've got a lot of respect for him. He's come in and just his presence, you feel a bit like 'ooh, Wayne's here ...'

"The camp's looking good and everyone's happy, and really focused at the same time, which is probably the difference from other camps I've been in."

The Kiwis trained at the SCG on Wednesday with defence again the focus as former halfback Stacey Jones tested the outside backs with attacking kicks.

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