League: McKendry living the dream after getting test call-up

Front rower Sam McKendry is "living the dream" as he prepares to make his test debut for the Kiwis against Four Nations rugby league opponents Papua New Guinea on Saturday night.

The inclusion of the Penrith prop in the starting 13 is one a number of changes that coach Stephen Kearney has made to the side who beat England 24-10 in the tournament opener in Wellington last weekend.

"I was just speechless," the quiet spoken McKendry said today about his reaction to being told he was to get his first cap.

"I was so excited I rang my parents straight away. They were pretty excited for me."

McKendry, 21, was a late addition to the Kiwis' 23-man Four Nations squad after injury ruled out Parramatta prop Fuifui Moimoi.

He made his National Rugby League (NRL) debut in May, 2008, as an 18-year-old in a Penrith victory over the New Zealand Warriors.

However, that was one of only two NRL appearances that season and he added just one more last year.

A strenuous off-season last summer, during which he trimmed his 1.88m frame to 115kg, paid dividends as he went on to feature in all 26 of the Panthers' matches this year.

Last month, the club announced a four-year extension to his contract through to the end of 2015.

McKendry, who was born in Stirling, Western Australia, raised in Dargaville and played for the Mt Albert club in Auckland before joining Penrith, said he never had any doubts about which country he wanted to represent.

"I'm living the dream," he said, unable to wipe a smile from his face.

He admitted his ambition of wearing the New Zealand jersey had come earlier than he had imagined.

"But I've put in the hard yards all season and it's paid off now."

He wasn't thinking too far ahead and about whether he might get a run next week against Australia, whose squad include veteran prop and Penrith skipper Petero Civoniceva, a player he looked up to and who had helped him out a lot.

"I'll just go hard this week and leave nothing in the tank," he said.

"Just have no regrets after the game and see what happens from there."

Kearney said McKendry had worked hard for his first cap, including putting in a strong performance for New Zealand Maori against England this month.

He was "super confident" the player could make the step up to test level.

"He's really pumped for a big game," Kearney said. "I'm looking forward to his performance."


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