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Tohu Harris has turned down a Contiki Tour at the rugby league World Cup after being dumped by New Zealand to make way for superstar Sonny Bill Williams.
The 21-year-old Melbourne forward was the unlucky fall guy following Williams’ availability u-turn – which occurred hours after Harris had initially been selected in the 24-man touring party.
While bitterly disappointed, Harris said he was determined to add to his one Test cap earned in the Kiwis’ mid-year clash with Australia in Canberra.
But he and the Storm had no interest in the Dally M rookie of the year nominee heading over to the World Cup as a tourist.
“The NZRL invited Tohu to join the squad as part of the travelling party,” Melbourne Storm director of football Frank Ponissi said in a statement.
“Melbourne Storm, with the full support of Tohu, declined this opportunity to allow him to take a well-earned break before returning for the 2014 pre-season.”
World Cup selection would have capped a breakthrough campaign for the Hastings-born forward, who came from nowhere to earn a spot in the Storm side for the World Club Challenge, where he scored a crucial try in the win over Leeds.
He was a mainstay of the Storm side which bowed out in weeks two of the NRL finals.
Harris was an unexpected inclusion when named 18th man for the Kiwis against the Kangaroos in April, brought into the squad when Newcastle’s Jeremy Smith was suspended for a head slam.
He was then rushed into the final 17 when skipper Simon Mannering broke down at the team’s final training run.
But all the luck he received in securing a first black jersey turned on Harris with Wednesday’s dumping.
“As you would expect, I’m very disappointed not to be heading to the World Cup to represent my country,” Harris said in a statement.
“I was very much looking forward to going, however I understand the decision that has been made and hope I get another opportunity to play for the Kiwis in the future.
“My focus will now be on returning to training with Storm in November for pre-season and looking forward to an exciting 2014.”
Added Ponissi, “We feel for Tohu is in this situation given the range of emotions he would’ve experienced over the last 24 hours.
“He has had an outstanding first season of NRL and we know he would’ve done a wonderful job representing his country at the World Cup.”