New Zealand’s historic Test match against England in Denver on June 23 has been plagued by opposition from NRL clubs, the Players’ Association and even some fans, but incoming Kiwis coach Michael Maguire’s biggest problem could be finding 17 fit players to make the controversial stateside journey.
A horrific couple of weeks injury-wise in the NRL has cut a swathe through the Kiwis’ playing ranks, ruling out multiple frontline contenders and putting the prospects of several other certainties in serious doubt.
Canberra’s Jordan Rapana – arguably the first winger picked in a full-strength Test squad – suffered a bad hamstring injury in the Raiders’ loss to Penrith on Friday and was immediately ruled out of the Test.
Rapana will reportedly miss eight matches.
Unfortunate news for Jordan Rapana who is expected to miss an extended period following a hamstring injury.
— Canberra Raiders (@RaidersCanberra) June 9, 2018
The dreaded hammy has also all but consigned blue-chip front-rower Jesse Bromwich to the casualty ward for several weeks. Melbourne coach Craig Bellamy confirmed the injury, which occurred in yesterday’s win over Brisbane, was “not just a small strain”.
Bromwich was looking to return to the New Zealand side after missing the World Cup for disciplinary reasons.
Jesse Bromwich off with what appeared to be a right hamstring injury. Only lasted one play after initial injury, hopefully lower grade strain. General recovery guide:
Grade 1: 2-4 weeks
Grade 2: 4-6 weeks#NRLStormBroncos
— NRL PHYSIO (@nrlphysio) June 10, 2018
Meanwhile, Benji Marshall could be out for six weeks due to a calf injury picked up at the captain’s run the day before Wests Tigers’ loss to Cronulla.
Despite not representing his country since 2012, the Kiwis legend’s form for the Tigers this year had made him a near-irresistible option to partner Shaun Johnson (if he’s allowed to tour after recent injury layoffs) in the halves.
Ivan Cleary has provided an injury update on Benji Marshall after he was a late withdrawal from today's game.
— Wests Tigers (@WestsTigers) June 10, 2018
Bulldogs half Kieran Foran – a 21-Test veteran – is also likely to be unavailable with a toe injury, leaving the likes of Kodi Nikorima, Te Maire Martin, Mason Lino and Benji’s bro Jeremy Marshall-King to vie for the Kiwis’ No.6 jumper.
But perhaps the most devastating blow could come in the form of brilliant Warriors fullback and Kiwis captaincy contender Roger Tuivasa-Sheck’s withdrawal.
RTS missed the Warriors’ win over Manly with an ankle complaint and is no certainty to return for Friday’s assignment against the Cowboys in Townsville. While the injury is not serious, it’s highly unlikely the Warriors would permit him to make the already-unpopular trip to Denver without a game under his belt for three weeks.
— Stuff.co.nz Sport (@NZStuffSport) June 8, 2018
CEO Cameron George has publicly questioned the timing of the far-flung international, while coach Stephen Kearney declared any Warriors players selected would be stood down from the subsequent clash with Cronulla.
Adding to Maguire’s dilemma, in-form Manly prop Martin Taupau has said he would have to consider his place in the team if selected because of the potential impact on his club, Tigers front-rower Ben Matulino has retired from rep footy and clubmate Russell Packer may have visa issues because of his assault conviction and jail term, and David Fusitu’a, Solomone Kata and Addin Fonua-Blake have pledged their allegiance to Tonga, with Jason Taumalolo, Manu Ma’u and Sio Siua Taukeiaho likely to follow suit.
It would not surprise to see stalwart Simon Mannering – who has played just five Tests in the past three years – politely decline a seat on the plane.
That’s a full starting line-up’s worth of top-line talent that potentially won’t be available.
The likes of Ken Maumalo – who told This Warriors Life he would take a Kiwis opportunity over representing Samoa – Esan Marsters, Jamayne Isaako, Joseph Manu, Corey Harawira-Naera, Slade Griffin, Bunty Afoa, Agnatius Paasi and Brandon Smith are all vying for a maiden New Zealand call-up.
Assuming all of the aforementioned players are unavailable, here is TWL’s Kiwis squad for the Test against England: Peta Hiku, Jason Nightingale, Dean Whare, Jordan Kahu, Ken Maumalo, Kodi Nikorima, Shaun Johnson, Nelson Asofa-Solomona, Issac Luke (c), Agnatius Paasi, Tohu Harris, Kevin Proctor, Adam Blair. Interchange: Slade Griffin, Isaac Liu, Bunty Afoa, Corey Harawira-Naera. 18th man: James Fisher-Harris.