SYDNEY - A shattered Iosia Soliola became the Kiwis' fifth rugby league World Cup injury casualty yesterday as coach Stephen Kearney crossed his fingers over the fitness of his frontliners.
The Kiwis had their first field session yesterday since arriving in Sydney after digesting the news Sydney Roosters centre Soliola would miss the tournament due to a shoulder injury.
He joins props Roy Asotasi and Jeff Lima, second-rower Frank Pritchard and fullback Brent Webb on the sidelines through injury.
Soliola, who was unlikely to be named in Kearney's 17 to face Australia on Sunday, was given the bad news after a routine scan revealed his risked serious injury to his shoulder if he played in the tournament. He will now undergo surgery.
"This is a huge blow for me. I was so excited being back in the team and having the chance of playing in the World Cup," the 22-year-old said.
"The toughest thing was telling the boys I had to pull out of the team but I'll do all I can to support them in this journey."
Kearney summoned Wests Tigers forward Bronson Harrison as Soliola's replacement in the 24-man squad, saying they had enough cover at centre through Setaimata Sa and Simon Mannering.
"It's really disappointing for him (Soliola). He was really keen to be part of the campaign and he's such a popular member of the group, we're pretty sad to lose him," Kearney said.
Kearney will name his side to face Australia tonight and was confident of including fullback Lance Hohaia (hamstring), wing Manu Vatuvei (hamstring) and captain and prop Nathan Cayless (knee) after they were rested from Saturday's 56-8 win over Tonga.
Cayless played a full part in training but Hohaia and Vatuvei sat out the early stages, instead doing sprints and stretching with team medical staff.
"That was the reason we gave them the weekend off, we didn't want to take any risk with the three that missed out. At this stage we're picking they'll be ready," Kearney said.
Kearney said the 17 named to face Tonga, including the three who were rested, were close to his top combination at this stage.
He said the team were better prepared than for the Centenary test in May, which the Kangaroos won 28-12, but was unsure how much the Tonga match could be used to measure their progress.
"It was a hard one to gauge. We thought the Tongan side would present a bit more opposition, the lads played well it was just one of those things where we got a run of possession and it was hard to peg back.
"The fact we spent a week and a half together is certainly a lot better than the Centenary test preparation, but that doesn't count for much if we don't turn up on Sunday evening."
- NZPABy Mark Geenty