Sam Moa returns with a powerhouse display
His Kiwis' teammates joked that he resembles Alex Leapai, though in a significant point of difference with Australia's heavyweight boxer Sam Moa successfully went the distance despite being floored in the early stages of Friday's Anzac Test.
Leapai bravely made it to the fifth round of a futile bid to beat reigning multiple world champion Wladimir Klitschko in Germany on Anzac weekend, and Moa inadvertently justified the boxing analogy by recovering from a head knock and contributing to a defiant Kiwis effort before the Kangaroos prevailed 30-18 at Sydney's Allianz Stadium.
While the pre-match debate focused on Jared Waerea-Hargreaves' supposedly shock omission from the Kiwis squad, it was his lower-profile Sydney Roosters teammate that emerged as a focal point after the world champion Australians were stretched before recording their 13th successive Anzac Test victory.
An understated front rower who resurrected his NRL career at the Roosters last season following an obscure stint Super League, Moa justified his return to the Kiwis line-up with a powerhouse display that eased his annoyance at being overlooked for last year's World Cup final.
Moa's involvement in the tournament ended at the quarterfinal stage - and in hindsight the squat former Tongan international might have been a wiser selection than Waerea-Hargreaves and Sam Kasiano.
"Personally it was frustrating watching from the sidelines," he said after complementing 13 runs for 116-metres with his first test try.
I wouldn't say I proved a point, but I think I played to my ability and hopefully I'll be in contention for the end of the year (Four Nations)."
Providing he maintains his current form, the 27-year-old seems assured of extending a four-test Kiwis career which already casts him as a pack leader.
"He's been around a while, he's got some age on his side and when you've got five new caps that experience is crucial," said coach Stephen Kearney.
"Him and Jesse (Bromwich), and Greg Eastwood and Adam Blair assumed that (leadership) responsibility."
Softly spoken off the field, Moa was usually talkative throughout the Kiwis preparations in a bid to ease the rookies nerves ahead of their biggest test.
"I just tried to reassure the younger guys that there's no use getting rarked up so early in the week.
"I just told them to calm down and let the emotions take a backward step after the haka," he said, happy the advice was heeded.
"Those young guys showed tremendous maturity and spirit and as a rugby league nation we can certainly be excited by how they played."
Meanwhile, although Moa sees a bright long-term future for the code in New Zealand, he was unsure whether he would be available to play the Wests Tigers on Friday night.
Moa left the field in the 13th minute and although he returned 10 minutes later he admitted the head knock suffered when he made a tackle.
"The guys were calling me Alex Leapai during the week and I felt like I was on the end of some big punches when I got hit on the side of the head," he said.
"It knocked me silly and I lost my legs. I got assessed by the doctor, he reckons I passed the concussion test with flying colours. I don't remember much about it.
"I try and avoid head knocks, it's not too good in the long run. It's just about resting now and hopefully I'll be right."