They shared one of New Zealand Rugby League's greatest moments but since the Kiwis won the 2008 World Cup the test careers of Sam Perrett and Krisnan Inu had gradually petered out - until a game-changing mid-season move to the Canterbury Bulldogs.
While the club's reputation was sullied by the abusive antics of players and staff on the post their Grand Final "Mad Monday" last week, two of the team's quiet achievers distanced themselves from the controversy and reflected on the resumption of their Kiwis careers in Saturday's one-off trans-Tasman test in Townsville.
The deeply religious duo both used the term "blessing" liberally after completing the squad's first training in uncomfortably warm conditions in Cairns yesterday - and were still struggling to come to terms with how their seasons had transformed from the doldrums to the NRL's showpiece event, and an opportunity to stake a claim for next year's World Cup defence in England.
Six months ago the enigmatic Inu was exiled to the NSW Cup after a calamitous performance for the New Zealand Warriors on Anzac Day in Melbourne; Perrett, a fan favourite at the Sydney Roosters, was struggling for motivation on the wing and told he was free to negotiate with rival clubs.
They ultimately found a new home in Sydney's inner west and, after forming a potent combination on the Bulldogs right edge they have been challenged to transfer that intuition to the international arena.
Inu, who made his debut in the 2007 Anzac Test after just one first grade game for Parramatta, played the last of his four tests in the 2009 Four Nations tournament though the laidback, laconic goal-kicking utility back was typically vague when asked about his last match in black.
"I wouldn't even have a clue, that's how long it's been," he smiled.
The Auckland-born 25-year-old also had no idea had 2012 would pan out after he was demoted to the Auckland Vulcans and then dispatched across the Tasman as soon as Des Hasler approached the Warriors to solve an outside back injury crisis in late May.
"If you told me I'd end up playing with Sammy at the Bulldogs and now here, I wouldn't have believed you. I guess that's part of the game really. If you perform you get your shot and if you play well and things happen," he said.
"We're blessed and grateful to be together again at Kiwis level."
Inu's form for the Bulldogs - nine tries and 55 goals from 16 games - obviously piqued the selection panel's interest and once Shaun Kenney-Dowall and Steve Matai were ruled out through injury a centre berth was assured.
Perrett, who played the last of his 19 tests in the 2010 Four Nations, got the nod over Warriors behemoth Manu Vatuvei while Jason Nightingale's post-season surgery also cleared the way for the diminutive wing - and nippy dummy half runner - to prolong his season by another 80 minutes.
The 27-year-old was also appreciated the lifeline provided by Hasler after feeling he was stagnating at the Roosters in the later stages of his 148 game stint for the Bondi-based outfit.
"Thank goodness I've had a shot at the Bulldogs in a performing side," he said after citing the Roosters early season form for missing out on April Anzac Test at Eden Park.
Like Inu he agreed the pair were "long odds" to be in a Grand Final, let alone Kiwis teammates for the first time since 2009.
"It's a real blessing and we're just going to take everything we can get and roll with it," said Perrett, who previously established an excellent rapport with Kenny-Dowall and club and test level.
And after a dozen games with Inu, Perrett sensed a similar understanding was developing.
"We've had plenty of time together at the Bulldogs so the combination is good," said Perrett, the Bulldogs try-scorer in their 14-4 loss to the Melbourne Storm.
"Krisnan definitely has his own style but he's similar to Shaun in the fact they can make some pretty crazy things happen," he said.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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