Picking Australia an easy decision: Kaufusi
Kangaroos rookie Felise Kaufusi says it was an easy decision to pick the green and gold jersey over Tonga but has backed the Pacific nation to excel at the World Cup with the likes of Andrew Fifita and Jason Taumalolo putting their hands up to represent Mate Ma'a.
Fifita had originally been named in the Australian side but withdrew to play for Tonga while Taumalolo sensationally turned his back on New Zealand to join Kristian Woolf's side, setting up a mouth-watering clash when the teams meet on November 11 in Hamilton.
Kaufusi has three caps for Tonga – including this year's 26-24 win over Fiji – but never considered turning down the opportunity to play for Australia.
"It was a pretty easy decision, to be honest. This opportunity doesn't come around very often so I'm just grateful," Kaufusi said at the team hotel in Mascot.
"I would have loved to have played for Tonga to represent my heritage; that's where my mum and dad are from. I have played for them before – I played the Test match [earlier in the year] and it was pretty special – but to get this opportunity, I'm forever grateful and I'll take it with both hands.
"Growing up in Queensland I've always watched State of Origin and watched the Aussie boys so it's always been a dream of mine."
The 25-year-old New Zealand-born back-rower only found out about his selection on Monday from Storm football director Frank Ponissi, following Melbourne's 34-6 grand final win over the Cowboys.
Kaufusi was a key cog in Melbourne's premiership campaign, starting all 27 matches in 2017 and scoring nine tries along the way, including one in the grand final.
It's been a rapid rise for a man who only started five matches in his first two seasons and surprised many by being named Queensland's 18th man in Game Three last year, but he's now made the No.11 jersey his own and is ready to make his Australian debut.
"I think it's been a bit of a breakout year for myself. On the back of playing some good footy, I was lucky enough to get the call up," he said.
"We lost a great player in Kevin Proctor [at the Storm] and the coaches really challenged me to try to grab that opportunity with both hands. I think that's exactly what I've done. I ripped into pre-season and had some good trials going into the season and it's turned out really well for me."
There will be more than a few familiar faces in Australian camp with seven Storm players selected in Mal Meninga's squad.
No Australian team would be complete without Billy Slater, Cooper Cronk and Cameron Smith, and Kaufusi is once again looking forward to working alongside the game's greatest trio.
"I grew up watching them so to be playing alongside them and trying to max out my time playing with them is going to be something special," he said.
"To have some familiar faces around – the 'Big Three' they call them – and playing off Cooper the whole year, I think that helps me a lot. It's always good to have some faces that you know already."
While Kaufusi's biggest focus will be helping Australia defend its World Cup title, he's expecting big things from Tonga given their star acquisitions.
"It's a big bonus for them and I think they'll be really strong for them and they'll be hard to beat," he said of their star-studded pack that now includes Taumalolo and Fifita.
"I think it's massive for them. I think it's really, really good for Tonga and I think they'll have a strong side this year so hopefully they can go a long way. You never know, we might end up playing them."