The Warriors' injury curse continues with captain Simon Mannering an extremely unlikely starter for Thursday's Anzac Day game against the high-flying Storm and there's a worry his calf injury could keep him sidelined for three weeks.
The 26-year-old was due to make his debut as Kiwis captain in Friday night's Anzac test but injured a calf in training and was a late scratching. Scans showed a calf tear and medicos suggest he will definitely miss Thursday's game in Melbourne and could struggle to be fit in time for their game against Gold Coast at Mt Smart Stadium on May 5.
It's another blow to the Warriors who confirmed on Friday Steve Rapira is out for the season with a knee injury and Dane Nielsen and Manu Vatuvei won't play against Melbourne.
Mannering tweaked his calf in training on Tuesday but didn't think much of it. He was confident he would come through Thursday's training unscathed after receiving treatment on Wednesday but didn't even finish the warm-up.
Even then, he was optimistic of playing in the Anzac test but scans confirmed a tear.
"I wasn't really thinking about it [the captaincy]," Mannering said. "I just wanted to be out there playing with the team more than anything. I thought it would be a bit selfish if I put myself first and tried to play when I wasn't right and leave the guys a man down. It was hard to watch and I felt for the guys out there who were working their butts off."
The Kiwis could have done with Mannering's leadership as momentum shifted against them early in the second half. The players on the park looked powerless not only to arrest an Australian side growing in confidence but also ensure they settled things down - the Kiwis completed just three of their 10 sets in the second half.
Coach Stephen Kearney is trying to build a strong leadership group but many of those members were missing this week, including former captain Benji Marshall and Jeremy Smith. One member, Frank Pritchard, had an excellent game except for conceding a couple of penalties for shoulder charges and the Kiwis lost potency when he had a spell on the sideline. Jesse Bromwich, Issac Luke, Ben Matulino, Alex Glenn and Jared Waerea-Hargreaves are part of an emerging leaders group.
Five-eighths Kieran Foran captained the Kiwis in the absence of Mannering.
He led well, often bossing his team-mates around the park but also remonstrated with referee Ashley Klein.
"It was certainly a game of two halves," Foran said. "I just tried to lead from the front. It was the proudest day of my football career. As a kid I dreamed of leading New Zealand out. [On Friday night] that dream came true.
"I just wish I could have walked off a winner."
Mannering might say that at least he walked off.