Veteran Kiwi international Thomas Leuluai said his inclusion in the World Cup squad came as a shock, having believed his days in the national team ended when he moved to the Super League this year.
After featuring at the Four Nations tournament at the end of last season, Leuluai expected the pool play clash against Scotland – where he suffered a broken jaw midway through the match – would be his 36th and final Test for New Zealand.
But this week he spoke of his joy when coach David Kidwell confirmed he would be part of the 24-man squad despite the selection of UK-based Kiwi players being almost unheard in the current international environment.
"Yeah, I most probably felt like [my Kiwis career over]. Then halfway through the year [Kidwell] gave me a call and I knew I was in the mix there, and I was lucky enough to get the call towards the end of the season," Leuluai said.
"I was quite surprised if I'm honest, I'm very honoured… to go to the World Cup with the Kiwis is always a great honour."
While he played almost exclusively as a half for the Wigan Warriors this year, Leuluai is also vastly experienced at hooker where he has played at both NRL Telstra Premiership and Test level.
With Issac Luke a shock omission based on form, 32-year-old Leuluai shapes as the leading contender to wear the Kiwis' No.9 jersey with youngsters Danny Levi and Kodi Nikorima also in the mix.
"I think [I'll be used] more in the hooker role, obviously I can play both positions, so it's cover for both," Leuluai said.
"But predominantly [Kidwell] said focus on nine. I'm happy with that, I've done it my whole career."
Despite his Wigan side failing to make the play-offs, Leuluai's season stretched deep into September, leaving no issues with match fitness.
"It's the latest I have played for the last few years, so I didn't have to do too much training on my own before Kiwi camp," he said.
"We trained [on Monday] and it was tough, I haven't done too much, but I think I stopped playing four weeks ago so it's not too bad."
The Kiwis will depart for a camp in the Waikato town of Ngaruawahia on Tuesday as they build towards their opening match of the World Cup against Samoa on October 28 in Auckland.