Luke still in Kiwis 'family': Kearney
Kiwis coach Stephen Kearney has described the omission of Issac Luke from the squad to take on the Kangaroos on Friday night as one of the hardest decisions he's been forced to make as national team coach.
Luke made the stunning admission just last week that he would have dropped himself from the Kiwis team if he had been coach, but Kearney said that his frank assessment had no influence on his non-selection.
The Warriors No.9 hasn't reached the levels he was expected to hit after joining the New Zealand club in the off-season, but did look much better on the weekend, running for 109 metres and scoring a try in a 59-minute stint off the bench.
Luke made his international debut on the same night Kearney made his coaching debut in a 28-12 loss to the Kangaroos in 2008, and the pair have forged a bond ever since.
Although they won't work together on Friday night, Kearney is confident they will be reunited sooner rather than later.
"He made his debut the same night I made my debut as coach so we've been on a fairly long journey together so it was a really tough decision to have to ring him and say he won't be part of the group this time around," a sombre Kearney said.
"I take my hat off to Issac. He understood why and what he has to do to get back to playing Test football and I've got no doubt in the world that he will do that.
"He might not be in the Kiwis now, but he's still very much in the family and he will always be a Kiwi. He just needs to get himself in a position where he is playing football that warrants him playing for the Kiwi jumper."
Kearney wouldn't be drawn into discussing exactly what the 34-Test veteran needed to do to get back in the team, but admitted Luke hadn't quite ticked those boxes yet in 2016.
"I don't think today is the day to go into specifics, but as I mentioned I've been working with Issac fairly closely over the past couple of months, just giving him an idea where I think there needs to be some improvement," he said.
"Obviously he's working within a club structure so I need to be wary of that but for me I didn't see a real improvement in that area and he understood that.'
Luke's absence has opened the door for Broncos youngster Kodi Nikroima to add to the three Test caps he earned on the end of season tour to the UK in 2015.
He looms as the only specialist rake in the squad, although Manly's Lewis Brown is expected to spend some time at dummy-half on Friday night. Newcastle's Danny Levi has been named as 19th man but is unlikely to play.
Kearney said he was still open to options, but was looking forward to seeing what Nikorima could do after watching him develop in his role as assistant coach at the Broncos.
"I know that the guys we have there in Lewis and Kodi have both been playing for clubs that have been ticking on pretty well and I'm sure they'll do a wonderful job for us," Kearney said when asked about his hooking options.
"The beauty with Kodi is he's got an ability wherever he is on the field, particularly when we've got the football.
"I know from an opposition point of view if you're defending him, you certainly have to worry about him because he's quick, he's strong and he's cheeky. Regardless of what position he plays I think he'll cause some danger."