The Kiwis’ desire to develop the halves pairing of Shaun Johnson and Kieran Foran means Benji Marshall has missed out on a spot in the train-on squad.
Coach Stephen Kearney has kept the door open on a possible return to the Kiwis for former skipper Benji Marshall – it’s just that it won’t happen this year.
Marshall is a notable omission from the initial group of players named in the New Zealand train-on squad for the Four Nations.
The one-time Wests Tigers playmaker has shown good form since his surprise return to the NRL with St George Illawarra in May, after cutting short a failed Super Rugby stint with the Blues.
After he had a chat with Kearney a couple of weeks ago, the 29-year-old expressed his desire to add to his 27 Test appearances, the last of which was in 2012.
However, Kearney pointed to Marshall’s late return to the NRL and the work the Kiwis had done in developing the halves combination of Warrior Shaun Johnson and Manly’s Kieran Foran as counting against him this time.
But Kearney also said “anything is possible” further down the line.
“There’s every opportunity for Benji to wear the black jersey,” he told journalists on Tuesday.
“At this particular stage, it won’t be in 2014 but I’m not writing anything off.
“The way he has come back is a real credit to him. I’m certainly not discounting him wearing the black jersey again.”
The 21 players chosen from the eight clubs who have failed to make the NRL play-offs contain 11 who have yet to play for the Kiwis.
They include Warriors prop Suia Matagi and Cronulla utility Fa’amanu Brown, who have been named in the Samoa train-on squad as well.
Kearney said both had expressed a desire to represent New Zealand but, if they missed out, they wanted to opportunity to play international football with Samoa.
Also in the initial selection is Queensland Under-20s outside back Valentine Holmes, who on Monday was been picked in the Junior Kangaroos train-on squad for the match against the Junior Kiwis on October 18.
An NRL rookie, the Townsville-born 19-year-old played in Cronulla’s last six games of the season.
NZRL football general manager Tony Iro accepts that Holmes will face a tough decision in confirming his football allegiance, especially with the lure of State of Origin.
“He has indicated to us that, yes, he would like to play for New Zealand,” Iro said.
“But obviously he is also getting pressure from the Australians in terms of their pathways.”
The Four Nations starts on October 25 with England facing Samoa and New Zealand meeting Australia in a double-header in Brisbane on October 25.