SYDNEY - Benji Marshall is ruled out but Kiwis rugby league coach Stephen Kearney is still fighting to lock in English-based duo Brent Webb and Thomas Leuluai for the centenary test.
Kearney today put a line through Marshall's name for the May 9 test against the Kangaroos after he suffered minor scar tissue damage to his left knee during his comeback from a five-week injury layoff on Sunday.
The five-eighth was omitted today from the Wests Tigers team to play Brisbane, with Tigers assistant coach Royce Simmons insisting Marshall wasn't ready for test football.
Kearney agreed after a phone conversation with a sore Marshall, who will now target the World Cup in October.
"I spoke to him and we agreed the important thing was not to put him under any undue pressure," Kearney said.
"We were very mindful of how he came through that game and he won't be considered."
Marshall said he felt well down on fitness despite getting through Sunday's game against Cronulla, and wouldn't make himself available for the test if he didn't feel ready.
He has played just three tests since making his National Rugby League (NRL) debut in 2003, and missed last year's end of year tour after a fifth bout of shoulder surgery.
The Bulldogs' Ben Roberts now appears the leading candidate for the No 6 jersey.
But the situation with fullback Webb and halfback Leuluai is still unresolved, with both telling Kearney they want to play the test at the Sydney Cricket Ground despite being blocked by their clubs.
Leeds want Webb for their Challenge Cup fifth round match against fellow-Super League club Harlequins the day after the test, while Wigan want Leuluai to stay and prepare for their match against Warrington on May 16.
"We'll name them in the squad but the official word is still that the clubs are unwilling to release them," Kearney said.
"Thomas and Brent rang me to say they want to play for New Zealand and I owe it to them to do everything I can."
The New Zealand Rugby League (NZRL) has taken the case to the Rugby League International Federation (RLIF), whose constitution states players must be made available for test football if selected.
RLIF chairman Colin Love, of Australia, and Australian Rugby League (ARL) chief executive Geoff Carr had become involved and were "supportive", Kearney said.
Leuluai was Kearney's first choice at halfback.
"We've been looking for a halfback to replace Stacey Jones and we want to give Thomas as much opportunity to make the (No 7) jumper his."
Leeds chief executive Gary Hetherington insisted last week he wouldn't be budging from the "arrangement" with the Kiwis that the in-form Webb would be required if they drew another Super League club in the Challenge Cup.
Kearney, his assistant Wayne Bennett and selectors Howie Tamati, Darrell Williams and Tony Iro were due for a telephone hookup last night to finalise their squad.
It will be forwarded to the NZRL tomorrow for ratification, then publicly announced on Sunday night before the team assemble in Sydney the following day.
Parramatta's Krisnan Inu and the Warriors' Manu Vatuvei will join Marshall on the sidelines due to injury.