Levi blessed by former Knights hookers
Rookie Newcastle hooker Danny Levi's rise into the NRL this season has been aided by the guidance of former NRL hookers along the way, and we're not just referring to the legendary Danny Buderus, either.
While Buderus as the most-capped player in Knights history has had a profound effect on Levi as both assistant coach and head honcho for the final six games of the NRL season, the work former Dragons, Rabbitohs and Knights hooker George Ndaira has been doing behind the scenes has gone largely unnoticed by those outside of the club.
Ndaira, while never reaching the heights of former Blues and Australian captain Buderus, has been a handy acquisition in his time as assistant coach of Newcastle's NSW Cup team.
As fate would have it, with Adam Clydsdale injured mid-season and Chad Redman departing to the Titans at the same point Ndaira came out of retirement to help make up the numbers in NSW Cup – since partnering Levi out of dummy-half on the Knights' run to the preliminary finals.
Named in the Holden Cup Team of the Year for the second year running on Monday despite only playing once in the competition since Round 13, Levi said Ndaira has "definitely bettered" his game.
Throw in the fact incoming Newcastle coach Nathan Brown was a 173-game hooker for the Dragons in the 90s, it's not hard to predict things are looking up for Levi.
"[George] is a good dude, it was pretty funny how he had to come out of retirement but we were lacking a few players obviously and he's provided us heaps since he's come back," Levi told NRL.com.
"He can play in the halves and in at hooker but he steadies the ship and it's good to have him around. We talk to each other heaps at training and he helps me out a fair bit so it's good to have around in all aspects."
While Ndaira had to step up in the halves for Newcastle's 44-12 upset win over the Panthers last weekend with usual halfback Jaelen Feeney "chucking a sickie" Levi said the return of the club's NRL stars to their second string team proved greatly important with the Knights making no less than six changes to their team before kick-off.
"We didn't expect to win the way we did, we knew when we were going into the game that it was going to be tough, it was only like 10-6 at half-time and they stuck it to us pretty hard but we were able to blow out the scoreline in the backend of the second half so it was really good for everyone involved," Levi said.
"Having all the boys back from the NRL helps us massively. With [Nathan] Ross and [Jake] Mamo you have a ton of speed and then with Clint [Newton], Sammy [Mataora] and Joe [Tapine] in our forward pack you have them giving us really good go-forward so it was a major thing for us to get those boys back.
"These players have been able to help me out this year heaps too. It's a lot faster and a lot more physical and all their experience is a huge bonus. Clint especially, he guided me all the way through, which was a privilege for me."