Kaufusi caps dream year with Test spot
Melbourne Storm back-rower Felise Kaufusi has been rewarded for an impressive season with a berth in Australia's 24-man squad for the upcoming Rugby League World Cup.
Kaufusi was one of six debutants unveiled in Mal Meninga's squad on Tuesday after a stellar campaign at Melbourne after replacing Kiwi representative Kevin Proctor in the Storm's starting line-up in 2017.
Despite being born in New Zealand, Kaufusi is eligible for both Australia and Tonga, and was 18th man for Queensland earlier in the season.
When asked about the prospect on pulling on the green and gold jersey after Sunday's grand final victory and prior to the team announcement, the 25-year-old was perplexed at the idea.
"I don't know where you guys are getting this from. I don't know what to think at the moment… 100 per cent [I would feel out of place]," Kaufusi said.
"I'm dumbfounded by people tossing my name up because there's great players in front of me."
The Storm forward revealed how last year's grand final loss to Cronulla spurred him on despite missing the fixture.
Kaufusi was named in the extended squad in 2016 after featuring in 21 games during the regular season, but was not chosen by coach Craig Bellamy for the finals series.
"100 per cent [that motivated me], it was in the back of my mind," Kaufusi said.
"It did hurt but full credit to the staff how we turned it around this year.
"This year has been a breakout year for myself. I've worked hard in the off-season and am grateful to be in this team.
"Something clicked and I'm playing off Cooper Cronk, Billy Slater and Cameron Smith, they probably made me look better than I am."
Kaufusi will welcome brother and Cowboys prop Patrick to the Storm next season as a replacement for Jordan McLean, who is headed to North Queensland.
Patrick suffered a season-ending knee injury for the Cowboys earlier in the year and missed Sunday's decider.
He watched the grand final from the sidelines on Sunday.
"I talked to him and he jumped when I scored," Felise said of Patrick.
"Everyone looked at him weird but what do you do? It's family and he'll be down next year.
"It probably worked out better that he didn't play."
The second-rower had a quiet opening 20 minutes on the right edge with the game largely played through the middle, but the wait was soon over when he crossed in the 27th minute of the game courtesy of a Slater pass.
"I was out on my feet and that's the way footy goes," he said.
"You can't beat it, I'm so happy. It's all still sinking in."
The exit of Cronk and possible retirement of Slater had Kaufusi fearing his try-scoring ability could now dry up.
"I won't be [scoring tries] as much next year," he laughed.
"We won't know what we've lost until it's gone.
"There's going to be a change at the club and hopefully someone fills that role."