LISTEN TO THE AUDIO ABOVE AS TONY KEMP SPEAKS TO MARTIN DEVLIN
Warriors hooker Issac Luke is on track to start the NRL season and has his sights set on reclaiming his Kiwis test jersey for tests against Tonga, Australia and Great Britain.
Luke is confident of being ready to play in the Warriors' campaign opener against Canterbury at Mt Smart Stadium next Saturday, after making good progress in his recovery from shoulder surgery at the end of last season.
The Warriors coaching staff have had a hard time holding him back from full contact training and Luke feels he'll be ready for anything the Bulldogs can throw at him.
"I'm happy," said Luke. "I did full contact [on Wednesday]. I've been doing full contact anyway even while wearing a pink bib.
"I'm ticking a lot of boxes and have another contact session [today], which will be a good step for next week."
However, despite his talent and experience, the 31-year-old is aware he may have to settle for a spot on the bench, given the impressive trial form of young No 9 Nathaniel Roache.
"It just depends. Nate's been going really well, so we'll see how that goes," he said.
"I'll just do what's best for the team. At the moment, it's not about me.
"If Nate's doing a great job, then he needs to be a part of it, and hopefully I'm a part of the team week in and week out and we can both do a good job."
Having recently won a contract upgrade after eventually re-signing with the Warriors on a heavily reduced one-year deal last October, everything is falling into place for the 254-game veteran leading into his 12th season in first grade.
Rumours out of Sydney last month suggested Parramatta were preparing to lure him away from Auckland with a two-year deal worth $700,000.
Luke said he was unaware if a formal offer ever materialised.
"I don't know. [Player agent] Bruce [Sharrock] would know more than me but it was probably just music to our ears," he said.
"[Parramatta] have got a great young hooker [Reed Mahoney] at the moment, I don't know why they wouldn't just want to throw him in the deep end."
The speculation worked in Luke's favour, with the Warriors moving quickly to find extra cash to keep him and his family in New Zealand.
Warriors coach Stephen Kearney made it clear he remained an integral part of his plans for the year and Luke was pleased with how the matter was resolved.
Extending his time in the NRL remains a priority, giving him plenty of added incentive to perform at his best again this season.
"Mooks [Kearney] wanted a meeting and I talked to him about it and he said 'we'll figure something out because I don't want you to go anywhere'.
"Once I got that word, a lot of weight fell off my shoulders.
"My manager did a really good job and managed to get me a bit more money, but as a family, we're really happy. We were happy anyway but extra cash is good.
"I'm just playing for another contract, whether it's here or somewhere else, I'll figure that out."
Once he's back on the park, Luke hopes his form will be good enough to convince Kiwis coach and his old South Sydney mentor Michael Maguire to recall him for the June test against Tonga and end-of-year fixtures against Australia and Great Britain.
Having missed the 2017 World Cup when the Kiwis were humbled by the Pacific Island side in Hamilton, Luke would love a chance to help New Zealand even the ledger.
"It's a great calendar with a couple of games against the Lions and a big game in June against Tonga.
"Hopefully I'm a part of that because I wasn't a part of the last game.
"I just want to be able to be a part of that atmosphere and I'm looking forward to it."