Thomas Leuluai has revealed he was set to play in the ANZAC Test earlier this month before breaking his jaw for the second time in five months.
The 31-year-old Wigan scrum-half is set to make his comeback in Thursday’s Betfred Super League derby at St Helens, a fortnight earlier than scheduled.
It means Leuluai will have missed just three Super League matches, but the injury also ruled him out of the Kiwis’ clash with Australia in Canberra.
A telephone call from the New Zealand selectors at least provided him with re-assurances that he remains part of their plans despite returning to Super League from a four-year spell with home-town club New Zealand Warriors.
“I had a chat with them and I would have gone over for it, definitely, if I’d have been fit,” Leuluai said. “I think every player should take the opportunity to play for their country.
“I know the timing’s not right and it’s a bit of a hassle flying that far but it was the same for the English boys and I think playing that one game (against Samoa in Sydney) will really help them going into the World Cup.”
It was while winning his 35th cap during the Kiwis’ 18-18 draw with Scotland in the Four Nations Series at Workington in November that Leuluai broke his jaw in two places, which forced him to miss the Anfield final against the Kangaroos.
He recovered in time to begin his second spell with Wigan at the start of the season in February and helped the Super League champions topple Cronulla in the World Club Challenge, but suffered a setback when he caught the same jaw on the shoulder of Catalans Dragons scrum-half Richie Myler during a league game at the DW Stadium in April.
“It’s not been too bad this time, to be honest,” he said. “I’ve been quite lucky really.
“I re-opened the old break and broke one of the plates that was holding it together.
“They had to put new plates in but the bottom part of my jaw was still intact.”
For the second time in five months, Leuluai found himself eating through a straw, but he makes light of the discomfort.
“I don’t think breaking a jaw is as bad as everyone thinks,” he said. “It was only going to be six weeks max, and I’ve been able to shave a couple of weeks off that.
“I’ve still got to pass a few more tests. I’ve got to do a proper contact session (on Wednesday) but I should be right.”
Leuluai’s return will be timely as he goes up against former Wigan scrum-half Matty Smith, now in his second spell with St Helens, and he is now hoping to maintain his fitness to the end of the season to keep him in contention for the World Cup in Australia and New Zealand.
“A lot can change,” he said. “I’ve got to play well. There’s a lot of good players playing back there.”