In a match studded with about 10 likely or potential Ashes players, national captain Steve Smith wanted the candidates to stand up and be counted before the first Test, but the Blues left it to him to make most of the runs after being sent in by the Warriors.

With Australian selector Mark Waugh watching on, Nic Maddinson, Kurtis Patterson and Daniel Hughes all failed to go on with starts as WA had NSW 7-254 when bad light ended play on Saturday's opening day.

It was WA's Test No.6 incumbent Hilton Cartwright that left the most significant impression, dismissing a dominant-looking Smith for 76 in his first over with the ball.

Of the Blues' hopefuls, only Peter Nevill put forward any real case, with an unbeaten 32 at stumps.

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 twice sought brief on-field treatment for his back, but moved to 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 allrounder 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.

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 Test.