Fullback Brent Webb’s back injury looks likely to rule him out of the Kiwis’ World Cup rugby league campaign.
Coach Stephen Kearney on Wednesday said that Webb’s availability was expected to be confirmed by Thursday but the prospects were not good.
“We’ll know definitely in the next 24 hours, but it doesn’t look real positive for him,” he said.
Webb suffered the injury this year and its recurrence ruled him out of Leeds’ English Super League grand final triumph over St Helens last weekend.
Kearney said Webb, who has 17 test caps, was on the phone to Kiwis management after the Rhinos’ victory to say he was OK.
However, it appeared that the former New Zealand Warrior might need surgery.
“He’s still in England and in a pretty bad way in terms of his comfort level,” Kearney said.
“The fact that he’s got to get on a plane and come 24 hours is not a good sign for him.”
Kearney pointed to utility Lance Hohaia as the most likely player to wear the No 1 jersey were Webb ruled out of the World Cup, which begins in Australia on October 26,
Hohaia did a fine job filling in at fullback for the Warriors for most of the National Rugby League season while regular custodian Wade McKinnon was out, first with injury and then suspension.
There was back-up in Sydney Rooster Sam Perrett, while St George-Illawarra’s Jason Nightingale would be the probable addition to the 24-strong Kiwis squad were Webb scratched.
“Lance has had a wonderful year and I’m sure he would get first shot at it if Brent is no good,” Kearney said.
“Sammy Perrett is a handy fullback, too, and, if we are looking for a replacement, I know Jason Nightingale played fullback at the back end of St George’s year and he does a good job there.”
Nightingale will be appearing for New Zealand Maori against the Kearney-coached All Golds in New Plymouth on Sunday.
Kearney said Nightingale, who made his Kiwis debut on the wing in the centenary test against Australia in May, was unlucky to have been omitted when the World Cup squad was announced yesterday.
However, it was difficult to leave out the likes of Warriors Manu Vatuvei and Jerome Ropati, who were sidelined with injury in May.
“He’s done nothing wrong,” Kearney said of Nightingale.
“I thought he’s had a wonderful year and I thought he had a wonderful centenary test.”
Kearney expected to have the availability of injured Manly centre Steve Matai confirmed by the end of this week.
Matai, who has been battling with a shoulder injury that has progressively worsened through the season, is due to see a specialist tomorrow.
“From Steve’s point of view, if it doesn’t require a reconstruction and just needs a tidy up, then he can get that done after the World Cup,” Kearney said.
“But I want him and his club to make that decision and the specialist to give us the opinion that he’s okay to go.”