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Injured Warriors duo keep Kearney on edge

Published: 6:58AM Tuesday April 27, 2010 Source: NZPA

The Melbourne Storm's display of defiance still had a downside for Stephen Kearney after two influential Warriors avoided the NRL rout on Sunday night.

Although relieved the Storm responded to their NRL salary cap dramas with a crushing 40-6 victory, the Storm assistant coach was not as happy from his perspective as Kiwis coach.

With the annual Anzac Test fast approaching, Kearney's apprehension is not limited to the Storm's uncertain future.

His Kiwis squad are due to be named on Sunday and unless Manu Vatuvei and Simon Mannering turn out against Canberra in Auckland a day earlier, they will miss the cut for the May 7 international at Melbourne.

The duo's hamstring issues loom as Kearney's major headache as he settles on a team with fellow selectors Tawera Nikau, Tony Iro and convenor Howie Tamati.

After discussions with Iro, the Warriors assistant coach, Kearney was cautiously optimistic the damaging Vatuvei might yet occupy a wing berth.

"He's close but to play in the test we would need him to play next weekend," Kearney said.

The Warriors are due to name their team to host the Raiders tomorrow, although Vatuvei's absence does not guarantee he will not feature given he was a surprise inclusion against the Bulldogs in round five. He managed half a game in Sydney before aggravating the injury and returning to rehab.

Warriors captain Mannering and Jeremy Smith (knee) were in the same "must play this weekend" bracket although St George-Illawarra back rower Smith was reportedly a fortnight away from returning.

Kearney is also sweating on the core of his squad negotiating round eight of the NRL without incurring injuries or the attention of the judiciary.

He said an enlarged group might be named as a precaution before it is whittled down early in the Test week.

"We'll have a couple of extras there just in case," he said.

Although the Kiwis traditionally struggle in the Anzac Test, Kearney was confident the world champions would be competitive.

"We've got guys playing some good footy for their clubs and we're fortunate our depth is getting better."

Kearney was cagey about the composition of his squad but hinted Manly five-eighth Kieran Foran was firming as Benji Marshall's partner in the halves.

"He's been getting better every week, he's done everything to give himself an opportunity," said Kearney, who was impressed with Foran's recent performances against Cronulla and Melbourne.

Meanwhile, Kearney admitted Kiwis' planning was a welcome diversion from the ongoing inquiry into the Storm's financial impropriety.

"I'm fortunate I have another focus with the Anzac Test coming up.

"Sitting down on Sunday morning I had a good think about the Test. That's something I'm really looking forward to."