Wednesday 21 September 2011 | Published in Regional
Newcastle Knights comeback king Zeb Taia has turned down the opportunity to play for the Cook Islands against New Zealand next month so as to focus on his full return to the NRL.
Incoming Knights coach Wayne Bennett has advised Taia not to play for the Cook Islands in the October 6 Kiwi-Kuki test match at Rarotonga and focus on his recovery from a potentially career-threatening neck injury.
The 26-year-old forward played the final 46 minutes of the Knights 8-18 loss to the Melbourne Storm in their qualifying final two weekends ago.
It was Taias first game back for Newcastle since he aggravated his injury in a match against the Dragons on April 3 and underwent surgery to replace two of the disks in his neck.
Taias contract with the Knights ends after next season and the forward has said he wants to have his contract renewed and finish his career with Newcastle.
On Bennets advice, and to maintain his chances for eventually playing for the New Zealand test squad, Taia has declined the chance to play for the Cook Islands in next months one-off match.
Apart from trying to make the right start to the Bennett-era Newcastle Knights, Taia said he would be uncomfortable playing for the Cooks after just one game for the Knights in five months.
My first priority in international footy is the Kiwis and I hope I can get a couple more tests under my belt for them, so I want to show the Kiwis Im staying loyal to them, Taia said in the Newcastle Herald.
Even though I didnt make the (Four Nations) train-on squad, I dont want to play against them, because it wouldnt look good and you never know, I might still get a late call-up if they lost a couple of back-rowers.
Even if I dont, Im sticking loyal to the Kiwis and giving it another crack next year and hopefully being part of that Anzac test squad again.
Taia played for the Cook Islands in October last year, scoring a single try for the side in their 26-22 victory over NSW Country in Tamworth.
Cook Islands Rugby League international commissioner Kevin Iro said Taia and the CIRL had been in close contact in recent weeks, so the forwards decision to knock back a place in the Kuki squad was no surprise.
No, it hasnt derailed our plans, (the decision) is in his best interest, Iro said.
We didnt really have him included in the squad anyway, it was always just a hope.