The Kiwis' build-up to the Anzac Test has been overshadowed by personal tragedy as potential back rower Greg Eastwood and head coach Stephen Kearney mourn the loss of loved ones.
Eastwood was unavailable for selection for Friday night's test with the Kangaroos at Canberra Stadium because he returned to Brisbane where his father Dale lost a battle with cancer last weekend.
Kearney's grandmother also passed away recently. Her tangi is to be held in Waikanae tomorrow, an occasion he will miss to oversee the final stages of the Kiwis preparations.
It is understood the squad was initially not aware of Kearney's sad news.
Kiwis players did express their grief and solidarity for Eastwood as he comes to terms with his loss.
The ball-playing back rower rushed to the family home in Queensland after the Canterbury Bulldogs sixth round loss to the Sydney Roosters last Friday and is on compassionate leave for the foreseeable future.
Eastwood would have been under consideration for a place on the interchange bench or as a possible replacement at lock for Jeremy Smith who withdrew from the squad after he was charged by the NRL match committee with grade three dangerous contact following Newcastle's match with Penrith last Saturday night.
Kiwis and Bulldogs wing Sam Perrett said the team had been in touch with Eastwood but were also mindful of keeping a respectful distance.
"I've sent him a text. The message the boys are all sending is we're all here for him and if there's anything we can do ....our thoughts are with Greggy."
Perrett grew up with Eastwood on the Gold Coast where they played for rival high schools Palm Beach and Keebra Park before both progressing to the NRL and ultimately the Kiwis.
He said Eastwood's loss would provide added motivation for the squad as they seek to win the Anzac Test for the first time since 1998.
"There's no doubt the boys will have Greggy in their minds for sure," he said.
"He's one of our family, a good friend."
- © Fairfax NZ News