Kearney sweating on Marshall and Webb - Sports News - Fanatics - the world's biggest events

Kearney sweating on Marshall and Webb

By Mark Geenty 23/04/2008 05:22:52 PM Comments (0)

A successful Benji Marshall comeback and the goodwill of English club bosses is top of New Zealand rugby league coach Stephen Kearney's wish list this week.

Kearney is just over a week away from naming his first Kiwis team for the centenary Test against Australia in Sydney on May 9, with the crucial five-eighth and fullback spots still carrying question marks.

While Kearney welcomed Tuesday's news that Marshall would return from a six-week knee injury layoff for Wests Tigers against Cronulla on Sunday, he added a note of caution.

"He certainly comes into the frame but it's very important he pulls up okay," Kearney told NZPA.

"We'd like to see him get through two NRL games then make an informed decision.

"It's a big occasion and the intensity's a lot different in a Test match."

Marshall on Tuesday spoke of his desire to wear the black No.6 jersey at the SCG, assuming he gets through the next two matches for the Tigers.

One of the NRL's most marketable stars, Marshall has played just 63 NRL matches and three Tests since his debut in 2003, undergoing five bouts of shoulder surgery in that time.

"He's had a rotten run with injuries and we don't want to put any pressure on him and affect his long-term future," Kearney said.

"Everybody wants to see Benji play but we want to make sure he's right in his own mind."

Warriors centre Jerome Ropati was the frontrunner for the No.6 jumper, but suffered a hamstring injury last Saturday and could be out for several weeks.

Other five-eighth contenders to partner likely halfback Ben Roberts are thin on the ground, with Wigan's Thomas Leuluai also in the frame.

Kearney wants several English-based players to return for the Test, with Leeds fullback Brent Webb top of his list.

He has requested a one-match release for Webb with club bosses from Super League leaders Leeds, coached by former Kiwis coach Brian McClennan, and expects to hear back this week.

Leeds on Wednesday drew an away match against Harlequins for the fifth round of the Challenge Cup on either May 10 or 11.

"I'm aware of the importance of the Challenge Cup in England and Harlequins are a Super League side, so I understand it's going to be tough for them to release Brent.

"(But) I'd definitely like to have him in the side."

Bradford utility Shontayne Hape and Huddersfield centre Paul Whatuira are also in line for a call-up.

Parramatta outside back Krisnan Inu (ankle injury) is the only player definitely out of the Test, with Manly centre Steve Matai making a strong return from neck and shoulder problems last weekend.

Youngster Issac Luke will return from a broken hand for South Sydney this weekend, one of three hookers Kearney is watching along with the Warriors' Nathan Fien and the Tigers' Dene Halatau.

Fien, now eligible after completing three years of residency in Auckland, is favoured for the hooker's spot.

Kearney has been in regular contact with his high-profile assistant Wayne Bennett in the past six weeks and will further discuss the make-up of their side this week.

The team will be named on May 4.

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