For emerging Newcastle Knights hooker Danny Levi, the chance to represent his homeland carried deep meaning and a sense of overwhelming pride.
The NYC Knights' captain was a member of the Junior Kiwis side that defeated the Junior Kangaroos on Saturday at Mount Smart Stadium.
Not only has the match captured attention for its nail-biting finale which saw a field-goal in the dying minutes break the game's deadlock, but it was the traditional haka performed by the Kiwis in the lead up to kick off that has everyone talking.
The atmosphere at the stadium was fever pitch when the two teams stood face to face in the middle of the pitch.
Levi has spoken about the energy charged moment when the Junior Kiwis performed the haka before the match.
“It was a pretty big build up,” Levi reflects.
“Then when we started to perform the haka, I can’t explain it, emotions just took over.
“Before the game we were all just eyeing each other off and then it came to the haka, when we turned around, an Aussie walked up, it was all on after that.
“In our culture, it’ not so much as a sign of disrespect, it’s just that they came over the line and they are challenging us.
“We stood our ground.
“We were all pumped up and sometimes after the haka emotions start to get a bit wild, so everyone has to start calming down again and getting back to footy.
“The next day I saw my face blown up everywhere in pictures on social media.”
Levi relished sharing the experience of representing New Zealand with his two teammates Chance Peni and Joseph Tapine, witnessing a passion in the boys he had never before seen.
“It was the first time I saw the emotions of the other two, I hadn’t really seen that during the season,” he said.
“It just shows what representing your country does.
“It was good having them there and I thought Joe and Chance had a really good game.
“Chance scored a try, so he was super excited about that.”
Levi said the representative game’s intensity was a definite step up from the NYC competition.
“I thought it was a lot faster and the calibre of players is at a really high level,” he added.
“There were a few first graders in there, so I got a taste of what that would be like.
“It was really good for me because I got to see where I was at.
“It wasn’t your normal 20s game with a 40-50 point scoreline.
“It was really low score and close and just shows just how good the defence was, so it was a different game.
“We were just happy we had the good drop kick to get us that one point.”
While the NYC Knights forged stronger bonds in the Kiwis side, it was time to momentarily look past their friendship with Knights teammate Jake Mamo who pulled on the green and gold for the Junior Kangaroos.
“I didn’t really see him much on the field or the haka,” Levi said.
“I just thought ‘that’s the Australian side’ and that’s not my side, or teammates anymore.
“After Jake scored the try, I was about to come on and he just looked at me and winked at me."
The 19-year-old gained the most satisfaction from playing in front of his parents and family in Auckland.
“Running out was a crazy feeling, wearing the all black jersey and being back home in front of your family,” he said.
“It was the first time my family got to see me play in the black jersey, so that was cool.
“We did the haka to the crowd again as a sign of respect and I was looking for them and saw them on the corner of the stand and they were really loud and couldn’t stop cheering,
“I gave my mum and dad my jersey after the game, I felt good doing that."
Levi, who has recently extended his contract with the Knights, (link) will commence pre-season training with the first grade side at the start of November.
“I’m looking forward to preseason, but I’m nervous at the same time," he said.
“I’m just keen because I know it will be really good for me.
“At the moment I will have a bit of a break, it’s good to finish off the season with a good win like that.
“I hope to impress during pre-season, during the season play some good footy and I might get a shot with the big guys, that’s my goal.”