Kalyn Ponga explains Maroons choice over Kiwis
Danny Levi is the sole survivor after a disruptive three years for a Newcastle Knights spine that finally looks close to being settled in 2018.
After a whirlwind three seasons at the club, an NRL.com Stats analysis reveals that in Levi's 49 career games there have been 34 changes around him in the Knights' key playmaking positions, while he's also shifted between the bench and starting position on 13 occasions.
Levi's rise to the international stage with New Zealand is even more impressive given the tough start to his Telstra Premiership career with only six wins on the board.
The incumbent Kiwis hooker has had a total of 18 players rotating in the key positions of halfback, five-eighth and fullback around him at the Knights since his debut in 2015.
Those statistics are only set to rise after the club recruited a host of new players in the off-season – the 22-year-old will run out alongside the likes of Kalyn Ponga, Brock Lamb, Connor Watson and Mitchell Pearce in 2018.
In a positive sign for the club, among their preferred playmakers only Lamb remains without a deal beyond 2018. Jack Cogger – who has signed with the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs from 2019 – and veteran Trent Hodkinson – who has been linked to Manly Warringah Sea Eagles and Cronulla Sharks – are on the outer.
"Before in the spine the last couple of years we had a lot of players in and out so we couldn't quite work on those combinations," Levi told NRL.com.
"It's not clear-cut with who is going to be starting this season but I just feel like the vibe around training is great and everyone is a lot more confident and stable.
"Training has been a lot better and more up tempo with more quality sessions."
Levi said Pearce's impact on the squad since arriving in December was eye-opening.
"He directs everything really well," Levi said.
"I feel like if I'm under the pump a bit I just need to feed him the ball to sort things out. He's already taken a lot of pressure off some of the boys and his organisation is unreal."
After being coached by legendary Knights hooker Danny Buderus throughout his career, the Randwick junior continues to learn from some of the game's best with another two old rakes in Nathan Brown and assistant coach Simon Woolford paying a particular attention to his development.
Between them, Brown and Woolford played more than 400 career games in the No.9 jersey in their respective careers in the NRL.
"Browny and Simon have really helped add to my game," Levi said.
"All I really used to do was wait for a quick play and run out of hooker but I've learnt to play with other players and put people into holes because of them.
"They've added more to my game and that's what helped me get better throughout last year."
Brown declared in January last season Levi would take Warriors hooker Issac Luke's position in New Zealand's squad by the end of the year – a bold declaration at the time – but the Knights coach proved to be spot on.
Despite the club finishing with their third consecutive wooden spoon, Levi played in every game and was a standout in the Kiwis' otherwise disappointing World Cup campaign.
"I felt like when I got that taste in 2016 being 19th man in the Anzac Test it (making the New Zealand team) was my goal for the whole year," Levi said.
"I definitely felt I was capable. I just felt like I gained a lot of confidence out of it – being able to play with that calibre of players and being able to hold my own.
"I was proud of myself for getting to step out on the field. It was crazy, after I made my debut I woke up the next morning and couldn't believe I played for the Kiwis. I had to ask if it was real."
The final touch came from the man he replaced in Luke, who publicly wished the Knights hooker well leading into his international debut against Samoa.
"He messaged me a few times throughout the tournament, congratulating me at first and then with a few of the games giving me a few pointers, telling me what I was doing well," Levi said.
"It's crazy someone I looked up to my whole career and even after missing out he's helping me make my dreams come true."