‘I told Madge I’d travel to Antarctica to play’

When Michael Maguire first phoned Slade Griffin to tell him he was in the mix to make his New Zealand international debut, the nib Newcastle Knights hooker was stunned.

Privately, Griffin had dreamed of playing for the Kiwis since he was a little boy, but he never believed it would become a reality.

That was until his phone rang two weeks ago.

Griffin didn't recognise the number but knew the voice.

It was the newly appointed Test coach.

"I told Madge I'd travel to Antarctica to play for the Kiwis," Griffin told newcastleknights.com.au.


In turn, Maguire told Griffin he was in contention for a call-up.

He wouldn't need to travel to Antarctica but would need his passport.

The Kiwis are scheduled to face England in Denver on June 23.

A few days later, Maguire called again.

This time he was no longer in the mix but in the team.

"Madge called me and kind of said I was in contention the week before and I was just trying not to think about it too much and worrying about thinking about the Knights," Griffin said.

"He called me again on a Tuesday and had a bit of small talk at the start and I was trying to hear from his voice, the tone, on whether I was in or not. The suspense was killing me and then he said; 'have you got your passport?'

"I'm really excited."


For Maguire, it was an easy call to make and one which filled him with joy.

"You could hear there was a fair bit of emotion at the other end of the phone just by how he spoke," Maguire told newcastleknights.com.au.

"It's a great feeling as a coach to be able to ring a young man and tell him he's going to be playing for his country."

What Griffin doesn't know is that after their initial chat, Maguire started researching the rake.

While he's found a home at the Knights, he's spent the bulk of his career in Melbourne, a club Maguire knows well.

Griffin was in the 20s program when Maguire was an assistant coach at the Storm, so the new Kiwis mentor reached out to the likes of Craig Bellamy and Cameron Smith to learn more about the unsung workhorse.


While Griffin's bone crushing try saver on Roosters wrecking ball Isaac Liu turned plenty of heads last week, it was a glowing endorsement of Griffin's character from his peers which sealed Maguire's decision to hand him his debut.

"He's reliable with how he plays," Maguire said.

"You know exactly what you're going to get when he steps out onto the field.

"I spoke to Craig Bellamy and did a bit of homework on the character of Slade and I believe he's going to fit well into what we're trying to do with the Kiwi jersey.

"Success comes with the right characters and this is his opportunity now to show he puts everything on the field. "

With the Test taking place in America, Griffin knew of his selection in the team a few days prior to the team was named.

Griffin took his suitcase to McDonald Jones Stadium on Sunday before jumping into a car to join his teammates in Sydney later that night ahead of their flight to the US on Monday morning.

While Griffin had the Storm game to prepare for, he was able to take a moment to reflect on the achievement.

It's an honour he's struggling to comprehend.

"I wouldn't even say a dream. I probably didn't think it was possible to tell the truth," Griffin said.

"I remember as a kid watching the Kiwis on TV at my uncles at five in the morning watching them play England and now I'll be doing that.

"It's just amazing to pull on the black and white. I know I'll have the whole west coast supporting me."