John handed NZ chance
Isaac John will complete one of rugby league's most remarkable rises to fame when he makes his New Zealand debut in the Anzac Test against Australia in Sydney.
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The 25-year-old stand-off was forced to cut short his stay in Super League two years ago after being unable to establish himself in the Wakefield team, but on Friday he will go head to against the world's best player, 2013 Golden Boot winner Johnathan Thurston.
The gulf in experience and reputation could not be more stark. Thurston was man of the match on his 30th appearances for the Kangaroos, the 2013 World Cup final in November, while John is currently languishing in Penrith Panthers' reserve side.
John, a former Junior Kiwi who began his professional career with New Zealand Warriors, started to rebuild his career with Penrith in 2013 after being released early from his three-year contract at the Wildcats, and played for the Cook Islands in the World Cup.
He gets his unexpected opportunity with New Zealand after they were hit hard by injuries to playmakers Kieran Foran, Thomas Leuluai and Josh Hoffman as well as South Sydney hooker Issac Luke.
John has been named by Kiwis coach Stephen Kearney as the half-back partner for Shaun Johnson, while Ben Henry will play hooker and there will also be debuts for full-back Peta Hiku, hooker Siliva Havili and prop Martin Taupau.
"We're under no illusions about the task ahead of us - the Aussies are a world champion side and we will have to be on top of our game to match them," Kearney said.
"But we have confidence in our talent and there's definitely a spirit in this group that augurs well for this game and beyond."
Australia coach Tim Sheens has been forced to make one change to the team he announced at the weekend, with second-rower Matt Gillett replacing his injured Brisbane team-mate Sam Thaiday, but it is an otherwise familiar line-up as the Kangaroos set their sights on a 16th consecutive Test victory, which would equal the record of the so-called 'Invincibles' from 1979 to 1983.