Penrith's Sam McKendry in line for Kiwis return
Penrith Panthers general manager Phil Gould has apparently let a cat out the bag by announcing the recall of front rower Sam McKendry to the Kiwis team for next Friday's Anzac Test in Canberra.
Gould told his Twitter followers he had received notification from the New Zealand Rugby League that one Panthers player - McKendry - had been included in the Kiwis squad to play the Kangaroos.
The 23-year-old prop started his seven-test career in 2010 and has been a stand out in a rebuilding Panthers side that has struggled during the formative stages of the NRL Premiership.
McKendry played the corresponding fixture in Auckland last April but was overlooked for the latest trans-Tasman test in Townsville last October.
The Kiwis selectors have no shortage of propping options to choose from even though Sam Kasiano, a high-profile debutant in Townsville, is currently injured and yet to make a comeback for the Bulldogs.
Jesse Bromwich, a cornerstone of the unbeaten Premiers Melbourne, is expected to retain his place while Jared Waerea-Hargreaves is also tipped for a recall after also missing the 20-12 defeat in North Queensland.
Kiwis coach Stephen Kearney had Ben Matulino on the interchange bench for that international while Greg Eastwood and Adam Blair - a late inclusion for the injured Jeremy Smith - were the other impact forwards.
Blair avoided a one game suspension by beating a dangerous contact charge at the NRL judiciary on Wednesday and is free to stake another claim for retention when the Wests Tigers play St George-Illawarra at the SCG tomorrow - shortly before the 19-man squad is announced.
However, the former Kiwis vice-captain faces tough competition from rival back rowers Smith, Eastwood, Alex Glenn, Frank Pritchard and Sonny Bill Williams.
Simon Mannering, Benji Marshall's successor as captain, is an established second rower but could yet find himself in the centres due to the suspension of Krisnan Inu.
Shaun Kenny-Dowall is expected to return to the side after being unavailable last October and if Gould's message is accurate Dean Whare - who made an impressive debut in Townsville - has missed the cut.
Gerard Beale's season-ending knee injury means he should be replaced by Dragons teammate Jason Nightingale, an automatic choice on the wing when fit.
Sam Perrett occupied the other flank in October but could be under pressure from Manu Vatuvei, who made his comeback from injury against South Sydney last weekend.
Star playmaker Marshall, who is sidelined for at least a month after the big toe on his right foot sustained ligament damage during the Wests Tigers loss to the Storm on Monday, will be replaced by Shaun Johnson or Thomas Leuluai in the starting line-up alongside Manly's Kieran Foran.
Marshall, who played 22 consecutive tests for the Kiwis, was satisfied his replacement would be up to the task.
"I'm disappointed at missing the test but we have good depth in New Zealand at the moment so whoever fills the void I will be confident in,'' he said.