Issac Luke now Kiwi captaincy material
Kiwis coach Stephen Kearney has told NRL.com that he would have no hesitation in handing the captain's armband to Issac Luke for the May Test in Brisbane, praising the Rabbitohs' No.9 for the way he has developed as a player and person in recent years.
Should he be fit to take his place in the New Zealand team to face the Kangaroos at Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane on May 1, Luke will move to 14th on the all-time list of Kiwi Test caps with 33, moving past both Hugh McGahan and Roy Christian.
Somewhat of a recluse when it came to doing anything related to the media throughout the majority of his career, what interviews Luke did give were next to impossible to decipher as the quiet kid from Hawera struggled to cope with the limelight.
But now into his ninth year in the NRL with South Sydney and with 171 NRL games to his name, Luke has recently begun media training and actively seeks feedback from the Rabbitohs following media sessions.
It's an openness that has been welcomed by Kearney and further establishes Luke as a leader for both his club – he captained South Sydney to their Auckland Nines triumph – and country.
Blessed with such inspirational leaders as Simon Mannering and Kieran Foran in his squad, Kearney said that the team would lose nothing if Luke was ever elevated to the lofty status of national captain.
"We're pretty fortunate within the group – as you are when you get to that level – to have some pretty good leaders but from my perspective he is a leader and a captain of the team," Kearney said.
"You don't necessarily need to have that 'c' alongside your name to be a leader and a captain.
"He's part of the leadership group so it's important that he does contribute in that way and obviously from a cultural perspective I know it means an awful lot to 'Bully' about playing for New Zealand and you can see that when he comes into camps.
"I know he'd love it if he did [captain the team] so you never know, but he's very important in terms of that leading of the culture and what he brings to the table for us."
Luke made his Test debut in Kearney's first Test as coach of New Zealand in 2008 but the history between the pair stretches back even further.
Luke's high school alma mater, St Bernard's at Lower Hutt near Wellington, annually competes for the Stephen Kearney Cup and although the Kiwi Test coach had seen little of him play, he knew of Luke's talent long before he handed him his Test debut less than 12 months after making his NRL debut.
"He was a typical Maori kid. I am fortunate in the sense that I know his family pretty well," said Kearney. "His family and my family are from the same area so I knew him reasonably well.
"I hadn't been back home for quite some time but I knew of him and it was pretty obvious what raw talent he had.
"Right from the outset he was the typical, cheeky Maori kid. There were some rough edges about him and over the course of that time and those 30 Tests there have been times when he hasn't probably done the right thing but again that's part of the growing for him.
"What I'm really pleased about for him is that he has come out the other side. He's grown as a young man, a father and a footballer and it's a real credit to him."