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Kiwis cop dual blow ahead of 'Roos Test

By Jim Morton 04/05/2009 05:58:31 PM Comments (0)

New Zealand's hopes of ending their "Anzac Test" curse have suffered a double blow with explosive forward Frank Pritchard ruled out and influential hooker Issac Luke in danger of being suspended.

The Kiwis are without a victory in the one-off trans-Tasman clash in 11 years and their preparations for Friday night's edition at Suncorp Stadium could have hardly begun worse.

South Sydney's Luke copped a striking charge from Saturday night's loss to the Gold Coast shortly before it was confirmed Pritchard was unable to line up due to a neck injury.

Melbourne's Sika Manu has been called into NZ's 18-man squad which also has fellow forward Jeremy Smith in doubt with an ankle injury.

Trans-Tasman relations rest in the hands of Souths as the Rabbitohs weigh up whether to defend Luke's grade one charge for a late forearm which struck Titans and Australian backrower Anthony Laffranchi in the neck and chin.

The New Zealand Rugby League has petitioned Souths to contest Luke's charge as an early guilty plea would still mean suspension.

Luke's only hope of playing in the World Cup final rematch is to win a not guilty verdict at the NRL Judiciary.

Souths have gun lawyer Geoff Bellew poring over video footage of the 79th-minute incident at Skilled Park and the club has until noon Tuesday to decide on their action.

Wests Tigers' Dene Halatau looms as a potential replacement in the squad if Luke is rubbed out and could even take over his No.9 jersey thanks to his club combination with Benji Marshall.

Warriors half Nathan Fien also shared the dummy-half duties with Luke and Thomas Leuluai in last year's World Cup and could also be a back-up.

Despite winning the World Cup in Brisbane, NZ coach Stephen Kearney believes his men will again be underdogs as the Kangaroos seek revenge for the 34-20 loss.

"We haven't won an Anzac Day Test since `98 and we haven't won one in Australia and the average score in the last five of them has been 36-12, so to me that doesn't sound to me we should be the hunted."

Kearney said the injuries to Pritchard and Smith just heightened the challenge.

"It doesn't make it easy for us," he said. "We have to wait and see with (Smith). We're giving him every opportunity and that's our sign of what he means to the group."

Kearney will guide his side without the help of veteran coach Wayne Bennett but is still in regular contact with his World Cup assistant.

"He was wonderful for all of us last year but it's a real opportunity for us to push forward," he said.

"Wayne instilled a few things within the group which I'm sure will take us forward to Friday night."

Kiwis skipper Benji Marshall declared himself a certain starter after overcoming illness and a thigh injury but didn't expect his club coach, Australian mentor Tim Sheens, to take it easy on him.

"He's one of those coaches who knows how to get the best out of his team and he'll get the best out of the Australian team by sending a few people at me," Marshall said.

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