Frank Pritchard had hoped to make his mark on a World Cup final but lost his chance today when he was ruled out of Sunday morning's showdown with Australia because of a hamstring strain.
The 30-year-old second-rower, the oldest member of the New Zealand squad, missed the 2008 World Cup because of injury and managed only two games at this tournament. He injured his hamstring in training last week ahead of the semifinal with England - the first time he has ever injured a hamstring - and will be forced to sit out Sunday's final as well.
He was given a fitness test this morning (UKT) but failed to come through. Pritchard's absence is a blow, because he is an experienced and skillful player, but the Kiwis are confident they still have a team capable of upsetting Australia.
"We made a final decision on Frank this morning," coach Stephen Kearney said. "He'd love to play, and we'd love to have him there, but the stakes are as high as they get this weekend and he's not 100 per cent. It's naturally very tough for him to be this close and ruled out, but we're very happy with our cover."
It means Alex Glenn, who covered Pritchard in the last game, will play. It's likely captain Simon Mannering will slot into the second row with Elijah Taylor starting in the No 13 jersey.
Kearney named a 19-man squad for the final at Old Trafford, which includes three wingers.
The Kiwis are optimistic both Roger Tuivasa-Sheck (leg) and Manu Vatuvei (groin) will be fit to play and both have trained this week. Jason Nightingale is included in the squad as cover.
Tuivasa-Sheck, who this week was named Winger of the Year at the Rugby League International Federation awards, has been the winger of the tournament and his eight tries is only one short of the all-time leading mark for New Zealanders at the World Cup set by both Richie Blackmore and Lesley Vainikolo.
Vatuvei missed the 20-18 defeat of England and, while he has been struggling with both knee and groin complaints in the tournament, was in devastating form in the earlier games.
A final decision on the makeup of the playing 17 will be made on the day but it's likely Nightingale and Greg Eastwood will miss out.
As anticipated, Australia have included fullback Billy Slater who has made a speedy recovery from what looked like a serious knee injury in their quarter-final win over the US but a final decision will be made on game-day.
The most uncertainty is centred around the makeup of Tim Sheens' bench. Nate Myles is likely to miss out on a place in the 17 but opinion is divided on whether Brent Tate, Daly Cherry-Evans or Josh Papalii will join him.
New Zealand side to play Australia at Old Trafford, Manchester, on Sunday (3.30am NZT): Kevin Locke, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, Dean Whare, Bryson Goodwin, Manu Vatuvei, Kieran Foran, Shaun Johnson, Jared-Waerea-Hargreaves, Issac Luke, Jesse Bromwich, Simon Mannering (c), Sonny Bill Williams, Elijah Taylor. Interchange (two to be omitted): Ben Matulino, Sam Kasiano, Frank-Paul Nu'uausala, Alex Glenn, Greg Eastwood, Jason Nightingale.
Australia (likely): Billy Slater, Brett Morris, Greg Inglis, Jarryd Hayne, Darius Boyd, Johnathan Thurston, Cooper Cronk, Matt Scott, Cameron Smith (c), James Tamou, Greg Bird, Sam Thaiday, Paul Gallen. Interchange: Daly Cherry-Evans, Josh Papalii, Andrew Fifita, Corey Parker.