New Zealand come calling for Blackmore

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The Independent Online

Richie Blackmore will fly to Sydney with the Paul brothers next Monday after being named in the New Zealand squad for the Anzac Day Test against Australia.

The 30-year-old Leeds centre has not played for his country for two years because of a succession of injuries but will collect his 23rd cap when the two sides meet on 21 April.

Henry and Robbie Paul were automatic selections for the game, but there is no place for the Huddersfield-Sheffield Giants' stand-off Gene Ngamu, who played for the Kiwis in the Tri-Nations Series against Great Britain and Australia last autumn.

The British-based trio will miss the Good Friday Super League programme and rejoin their clubs less than a week before the Silk Cut Challenge Cup final at Murrayfield.

Blackmore made his Test debut in 1991 during his Castleford days and, after recovering from a groin injury that restricted him to just six appearances for Leeds in 1999, has shown signs of recapturing his old form.

"He's a real performer at top level," said the Kiwi coach, Frank Endacott, who as Wigan coach has been able to monitor Blackmore's rehabilitation at close quarters. "He likes playing for New Zealand and he's always done a very good job for us. He's a handful for Australia."

Endacott will fly out on Saturday after Wigan's Friday night Super League game against London, with Blackmore and the Paul brothers departing two days later after playing for their clubs on Sunday. "It's not the ideal situation. They're going to be very tired players, but I can't do anything about that," Endacott said.

With scrum-half Stacey Jones back from a broken arm, Endacott faces a dilemma over the Paul brothers, who covered both half-back positions in the Tri-Series. But both brothers are in top form, with Henry taking the man-of-the-match award in the Bulls' 44-12 win over Castleford last night, and they look certain to figure in the final shake-up when Endacott trims his 19-strong squad tomorrow.

"They've been the in-form players over here and I thought Henry was superb on Sunday," Endacott said. "They're fast becoming automatic choices for the Kiwi side."

Meanwhile, Endacott will miss Wigan's Easter Monday Super League match against Castleford on compassionate grounds. He will fly to Christchurch after the Anzac Test to visit his sick mother, leaving Wigan's football manager, Dean Bell, and the assistant coach, Billy McGinty, in charge.

NEW ZEALAND Initial squad (to play Australia, Sydney, 21 April): Barnett (Sydney Roosters, capt), N Vagana (Auckland), Blackmore (Leeds), Talau (Canterbury), Vainikolo (Canberra), H Paul (Bradford), R Paul (Bradford), Jones (Auckland), Lavea (Melbourne), C Smith (St George Illawarra), T Smith (Wests Tigers), Pongia (Canberra), J Vagana (Auckland), Lowrie (Wests Tigers), Swain (Melbourne), Rua (Melbourne), Lautiiti (Auckland), Kearney (Melbourne), McCracken (Parramatta).