Leuluai set to return as Kearney rotates squad

Tommy Leuluai will start at hooker for the Kiwis

New Zealand coach Stephen Kearney will welcome back former Wigan scrum half or hooker Thomas Leuluai for Friday’s trip to France.

Leuluai, 28, missed the 42-24 win over Samoa with a groin injury, but will start in Avignon, and Kearney also promised to give game time to those who missed out at Warrington on Sunday.

Kearney said after the Samoa game: “Tommy ran today (Sunday) and has been feeling really good the last few days. There was a chance he could have played against Samoa. He’ll be a definite starter on Friday next week.

“We’ve got the luxury of having the personnel we do in the halves; Shaun (Johnson), Kieran (Foran) and Thomas who plays in the halves and at dummy half, so we’ll see what fits the game on Friday and make a decision from there.”

When asked if he planned to rotate his squad and give everybody in it gametime, he added: “That was always the idea. The depth of the talent sitting on the bench, the likes of Jason Nightingale, Greg Eastwood and Ben Matulino, guys of that nature.

“They’ll definitely be playing next week. After tonight’s performance, hopefully it will light a fire amongst a few of them so that they put their best foot forward next week.”

Kearney revealed that Manu Vatuvei had played on with an ankle knock during the game against Samoa – it didn’t hold him back too much, as he scored a second half hat-trick.

Frank-Paul Nu’uausala also took a knock that left him with suspected concussion, but he was fine after the game, according to Kearney.

After travelling to France this weekend, New Zealand round off Group B with a game against Papua New Guinea at Leeds on Friday week.

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