Recalled Veteran Issac Luke Hints At Kiwis Swansong In Denver

Kiwis check out Mile High Stadium before Denver test

ALLAN MCKENZIE/PHOTOSPORT Issac Luke will lead the Kiwis on to Mile High Stadium against England.

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He has only just got back into the team but Issac Luke has indicated the test against England in Denver could be the last time he pulls on a Kiwis jersey.

Luke makes his return to the test arena on Sunday (NZ time) after missing out on last year's World Cup and has been given the honour of leading the team out on to Mile High Stadium.

However, there are a number of factors for the 31-year-old hooker to consider as he weighs up his international future.

Luke, who is off-contract with the Warriors this season, has been carrying a shoulder injury that may require surgery at the end of the year, potentially ruling him out of the tests against Australia, England and France. He is also expecting another baby.

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The 37-test veteran has relished being back in the Kiwis environment and reuniting with his former coach at South Sydney, Michael Maguire. 

But the recent representative retirement of long-time teammate Simon Mannering has brought into focus just how much time he has left at the highest level. 

"It could be," Luke said when asked at the captain's run if the Denver test might be his last.

"I came through some of the grades with Simon. It was a bit unfortunate that he hung up his boots but it's just obviously how the body feels and recovers.

"We'll see. We're expecting another baby. I've probably got to let the young fellas take over but I'm just trying to get as much tests as I can."

Maguire opted not to name a captain for his first match in charge but having assembled a side that features seven debutants, Luke's availability was crucial for the coach.

While several of his Warriors teammates were unavailable for selection, Luke said he was never in two minds about making the trip to the US.

"It was more a personal thing. I always wanted to be in the jumper again and I get to grab it with two hands," he said. "A few of the boys that didn't come were itching to be here but certain circumstances put them in a different [situation]."

The test in Denver is the first of a three-year agreement between the NZRL, England's RLF and promoters Moore Sports International and they will be hoping positive feedback from Luke and the rest of the players will help soften the stance NRL clubs have towards the fixture.

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Much of the build-up has been dominated by debate over the merits of playing a one-off match on the other side of the world, with players having limited recovery time to back-up for their clubs. The Warriors have previously indicated that players involved in the test would not be considered for this Friday's home game against the Sharks.

NRL club officials would prefer the match to be played at the end of the season, which the promoters are reluctant to do.

November is one of the busiest periods for US sport, with three of the four major professional leagues (NFL, NBA and NHL) all under way, as well as the hugely popular college football season. It is also heading into winter which could affect crowd figures and could potentially present player welfare concerns if it snows.

It means the debate is likely to continue for a while longer as they try to reach a compromise.

"We've got to sit down after this game, review and have a good look at that," new NZRL chief executive Greg Peters said. 

"Obviously it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out the travel and turnaround between the match and other club games is pretty short. We need to be conscious of player welfare but also these opportunities don't come around too often so we've also got to try and grab them when we can."

There are a number of factors that will determine the test's success for the NZRL, not least the performance of Maguire's young squad.

But off the field, the agreement has provided the governing body with valuable revenue which it is looking to build on.

"This weekend has given us an opportunity to explore new markets," Peters added.

"Leading into 2025 World Cup it's good to have a presence in that market, even though it's a bit far out at the moment.

"And from an international schedule point of view, it's also important to be playing more matches and growing more future commercial opportunities and all those things that come around it."

- Stuff

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