When John Kear confirms his Hull team to face Wakefield this afternoon, their biggest name will again be missing. For the fifth time in five Super League games this season, Stephen Kearney will be absent from the line-up, and Kear admits that the natives are becoming impatient to see him in action.
The New Zealand Test forward has not yet played for his new club because of a pectoral- muscle injury he sustained in pre-season training, and the rumblings on Humberside have begun to suggest that the club have brought a crock.
Kear, however, has been at pains to resist any temptation to bring Kearney in too early. "I've been very cautious with him; I'm sure Stephen would say I've been overcautious," he says. "But I feel justified, because we don't want him back for a week. We want him back for the season."
Kear's natural caution is reinforced by events elsewhere in Super League. Luke Davico came from Australia with a pectoral injury, broke down in his first friendly for Wigan and has since been released. "Stephen's injury was not as severe, but it could have been if I'd pushed him in too early," Kear says. "One of our goals is to be playing our best football at the end of the season - something we haven't done over the last couple of years - and to do that you need your best personnel available."
That would certainly include Kearney, whose exploits with the Kiwis and in Australian club rugby have marked him out as a world-class player. His ability to offload the ball in the tackle will add an extra element to Hull's attack, but Kear is prepared to wait for that boost until the time is right - which he is confident will be next Friday night at Bradford.
"He will definitely play at Odsal," Kear predicts. "But I'm not picking a team to satisfy any rumblings in the town. The players who have played have taken the pressure off me. We have won three of our four games and the one defeat was nip-and-tuck, so we haven't done badly without Stephen."
Besides, he is not the only coach who is having to wait before getting a high-profile overseas import on to the field. Huddersfield fans have yet to see the Australian Test centre Michael De Vere in action following a knee oper-ation, and Salford have yet to get Junior Langi on to the park.
In all those cases, Kear's advice would be the same: better to wait a few weeks and get a fully fit player ready for the long haul of Super League than to rush him back and jeopardise his whole season.