FORMER NRL star Ben Te’o says his selection for the British and Irish Lions ranks alongside winning State of Origin with Queensland and South Sydney’s drought-breaking NRL premiership success.
The Auckland-born centre was a surprise inclusion in Warren Gatland’s 41-man squad to face the All Blacks on Wednesday, less than three years after quitting rugby league.
Te’o admitted he was surprised to hear his name mentioned as a possible Lions bolter, given he only made his international debut for England — for whom he qualifies for through his London-born mother — in November.
He said seeing confirmation in a live TV press conference surrounded by his Worcester teammates was a huge thrill.
“As a rugby league player my dream was to win a competition and to play State of Origin,” Te’o said.
“To be picked in the Queensland State of Origin team at the time was unbelievable. And I just got that same feeling again.
“I was in a team meeting … and at the end they switched over to the live stream and I found out alongside my teammates. It was a nice moment.”
Te’o’s route to becoming a Lion has been a circuitous one, beginning with rejection from the Warriors’ junior program as a 16-year-old.
Undeterred, he fought back to earn a scholarship to renowned rugby league nursery Keebra Park on the Gold Coast before embarking on a successful career with Wests Tigers, Brisbane, Souths, Samoa and the Maroons.
After winning the 2014 grand final with the Rabbitohs, he joined former housemate Sam Burgess in heading to Europe to play rugby.
But while Burgess was headed back to Sydney after being made a scapegoat for England’s disastrous 2015 World Cup campaign by a furious local media, Te’o was quietly adapting to rugby with Irish side Leinster.
He then joined the ambitious Worcester club where his form in the English premiership impressed England coach Eddie Jones.
In February’s Six Nations clash against Italy he made his first start at centre and made a good impression on Gatland, who believes he can thrive in New Zealand conditions.
“He’s been playing at 13 but I think he is a better 12,” Gatland told Sky Sports.
“Impact off the bench in New Zealand is important, especially given what the weather can be like there in winter.
“We need someone like him who is a strong ball carrier.”
The Lions’ only series victory in New Zealand was in 1971, and Te’o is expecting the toughest test of his career.
“The All Blacks are the No. 1 team in the world for a reason. It’s going to be a very physical Test series,” he said.
“I grew up in New Zealand. My parents are still in New Zealand. I’ve played all my rugby around New Zealand a long time ago.
“I’ve played against Sonny Bill Williams but don’t know any of the other All Blacks.
“I know the country but I don’t think it gives me any advantage. It’s still a rugby field and you’ve still got to go out there and front up against the best team in the world.”
Originally published as Lions selection as big as Origin win: Te’o
SOURCE: newsnow sport