Hard-hitting Parramatta back-rower Tepai Moeroa stated his case for a return to Brad Arthur's top squad when the Eels host the Storm next Sunday with a powerful man-of-the-match performance in the Junior Kangaroos' win over the Junior Kiwis on Saturday.
In a team featuring several standout performances, Moeroa was judged best on field for his 132 metres, 22 tackles, try and try assist.
The 19-year-old Cook Islander hasn't played first grade since Round 4 after being hospitalised with an infection, instead working back to full match fitness with the Eels' NSW Cup feeder club Wentworthville.
That match fitness looked to be back as Moeroa repeatedly scattered the Kiwis' right side defence with powerful edge running, producing three offloads. The first of those, a deft one-hander to Brenko Lee, set up the first try of the afternoon.
Then with 15 minutes on the clock and the scores tied up at 16-all, Moeroa produced arguably his best charge of the afternoon, cutting through the Kiwis' right-side and carrying defenders over the line for his side's only try of the second half. It proved just enough as the Aussies held on for a 22-20 win despite a late charge on their line from New Zealand.
"It was tough, it's always tough playing such a good team like New Zealand. They play the full 80 – we gave away a penalty in the final 30 seconds but we managed to get the ball back and come away with the win," Moeroa told NRL.com after the game.
He said he was still playing NSW Cup as Eels coach Brad Arthur looked to him to get his full fitness back and reckoned he still has a lot of work to do.
"I just need to get my game fitness back, work on a few little things and hopefully I can get back in after the [rep round] bye some time," he said.
Moeroa only found out he was playing in the Test after he came off the field for Wenty last Sunday and was on a plane into camp the next morning – "It all happened pretty quick", he said – but he added the team gelled almost instantly and was able to get in a good preparation.
"We came in on Monday so we had five or six days to prepare," he said. "Our first day everyone just gelled together and everything went along smoothly. I was pretty stoked – it's always an honour to represent your country."
Moeroa also had some high praise for one of his fellow Parramatta juniors, Kiwi halfback Zack Dockar-Clay, describing him as "the ultimate halfback" and a future first grader.
"He's got feather feet you know, you've got to be careful because he can step off both feet. He's got a palm, a cut-out ball; he's the ultimate halfback."