League: World Cup over in under five minutes

By Michael Brown

Thomas Leuluai was left hobbling. Photo / Getty Images
Thomas Leuluai was left hobbling. Photo / Getty Images

Thomas Leuluai's last World Cup experience was a pretty good one but this time it was all over in less than five minutes.

The 28-year-old attempted to play on his injured groin against Papua New Guinea yesterday in Leeds but lasted only four minutes and 54 seconds before he hobbled off.

It was a disappointing sight not only for Leuluai but also for the Kiwis who saw him as a crucial ingredient if they are to retain the title they won in 2008.

They will now hope - make that pray - nothing untoward happens to hooker Issac Luke and halves Kieran Foran and Shaun Johnson over the next three weeks. They now have few back-up options.

Leuluai might not have been a starter but he would have been the ideal foil off the bench, not to mention his value if one of the three playmakers was injured. He had an excellent second half of the season with the Warriors playing at five-eighth, combining solid defence with good option-taking; his experience might have been critical later in the tournament.

His injury makes the Kiwis' application to Drug Free Sport NZ to use prednisone, a drug prohibited by the UK Anti-Doping agency, academic. The match against Papua New Guinea was his fitness test and there's no way they will risk him when it comes to the knockout stage, even if he were to make a speedy recovery.

"I think so," Leuluai said when asked if he thought his World Cup was over. "I tried to get back. I wasn't too confident at the start but it was really the only chance to have a crack at it and it went straight away.

"There was obviously a lot of pain. I knew it was going to be there but I just had no power. I could not run.

"I thought it was the best decision [to test it]. There are a lot of good players in the squad and it was less risky having a go [against Papua New Guinea] than next week."

Leuluai injured his groin in the first training session after arriving in the UK. He's had a couple of scans which have revealed no major damage but osteitis pubis is a painful injury that can take some months to mend.

It is likely Leuluai will remain in camp with the group for the remainder of the tournament. As coach Stephen Kearney said, he has a "very smart footy brain on him" and he's familiar with playing in the UK after eight seasons in the Super League.

It is also highly unlikely that he would be replaced in the squad because the World Cup organisers have taken a tough stance on injury replacements - and anyway, there's no obvious replacement.

"It's pretty tough and disappointing but it's something I have to go through and it's important I don't let my disappointment rub off on the squad because they have been playing really good football," Leuluai said. "I'm really mindful of that and want to make sure I stay upbeat."

- APNZ

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