1 Nov 2008

Leuluai holds onto halfback jersey for PNG world cup encounter

12:13 pm on 1 November 2008

The Kiwis halfback Thomas Leuluai has retained the halfback role for New Zealand's second rugby league world cup encounter against Papua New Guinea on the Gold Coast on Saturday night.

Leuluai turned in a less than impressive effort against Australia's Johnathan Thurston, with the Kiwis going down 30-6.

Leuluai was heavily criticised for not getting involved and blamed for New Zealand's uninspiring performance - but coach Steve Kearney says there's was never any prospect of Leuluai being left out of this weekend's side.

Kearney says the reigning world champions were always going to the Kiwis halves under pressure and feels Leuluai and five-eighth Benji Marshall will be all the better for the run.

Kearney made three key changes, including Setaimata Sa replacing the injured Sika Manu in the second row and David Fa'alogo coming onto the bench.

Krisnan Inu takes over from suspended centre Steve Matai while hooker Isaac Luke has won a recall to the bench at Dene Halatau's expense.

Bullocking winger Manu Vatuvei is battling a shoulder injury but is expected to play.