Steve Smith wanted Magellan Ashes candidates to stand up and be counted before the first Test, but NSW's best hopes left it to him to make the runs against Western Australia.
With Australian selector Mark Waugh watching on, Nic Maddinson, Kurtis Patterson and Daniel Hughes all failed to go on with starts as NSW were 7-254 when bad light ended play on Saturday's opening day.
Only Peter Nevill put forward any real case. He was unbeaten on 32 at stumps and could force his way into the Test XI with a big score on Sunday. Test incumbent Matthew Wade made just nine for Tasmania on Saturday, while SA youngster Alex Carey made 36.
After the Blues fell to 6-166, Nevill acted as an anchor for Mitchell Starc (43) and Pat Cummins (19no) late in the day.
Smith batted nicely but also had his own problems at Sydney's Hurstville Oval. He twice sought brief on-field treatment for his back, but showed glimpses of his best in a dominant 76 as he regularly drove through the covers with precision to notch 14 boundaries.
He looked set for a century midway through the day, before he drove a wide half-volley from Ashes hopeful Hilton Cartwright (1-20) to be caught at point.
The Blues' captain was the only player to pass 50 on a gloomy day, as his top order failed to push their selection cases.
Maddinson was bowled for 16 in the opening session, chopping on from Simon Mackin (3-60) as he tried to shoulder arms.
Patterson looked settled in his 66-run third-wicket partnership with Smith, but checked a pull shot from Jhye Richardson (2-43) to mid-wicket on 36.
Hughes also looked in when he hit five boundaries in his 25, but it amounted to nothing when he skied a pull shot off Richardson.
Earlier, Test opener David Warner made only five before edging a ball from Jason Behrendorff (1-44) to second slip, while Moises Henriques was lbw to Mackin for a duck.
NSW have Australia's first-choice bowling line-up, marking the first time Starc, Josh Hazlewood, Cummins and Nathan Lyon have played together in red-ball cricket.
It will likely provide the ultimate challenge on Sunday for Shaun Marsh and Cartwright, who are also trying to push their cases for the No.6 spot in the second-last Shield round before the Gabba.
NSW: David Warner, Nic Maddinson, Steve Smith (c), Kurtis Patterson, Moises Henriques, Daniel Hughes, Peter Nevill, Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins, Josh Hazlewood, Nathan Lyon. Trent Copeland (12th man).
WA: Shaun Marsh, Cameron Bancroft (wk), Hilton Cartwright, Mitchell Marsh (c), Ashton Turner, Jonathan Wells, D'Arcy Short, Jhye Richardson, Jason Behrendorff, David Moody, Simon Mackin. Joel Paris (12th man).