Rugby League: Britain must not rely on Wembley factor

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The Independent Online
Great Britain have made a habit of catching the kangaroos on the hop at Wembley, but Dave Hadfield fears that history is unlikely to repeat itself in the first Test this afternoon.

Great Britain have ambushed Australia at Wembley in the opening stages of the contests between the two countries often enough for the surprise attack to become almost expected of them.

In the Test series' of 1990 and 1994, and the World Cup of 1995, the Australians were caught cold in the first internationals of their visits to these shores. If it happens again today, however, it will be the dawn raid that neither they, nor their opponents, saw coming.

The Great Britain coach Andy Goodway has consciously down played the importance of the Wembley result. He has been close enough on previous occasions to see that the dawn in the capital is generally a false one.

His objective in this series, he has declared, is to supervise an improvement in Britain's performances from first Test to last. If the traditional Wembley turn-up comes at Old Trafford this year, then so be it.

Goodway has good reason to hedge his bets. Any objective assessment says that he does not truly have the players at his disposal to embarrass Australia.

With Gary Connolly available, with players such as Tony Smith, Shaun Edwards and Dennis Betts fit, it could be different. But, however Goodway perms his limited resources this afternoon, this year's combination does not look the stuff of which victory laps are made.

There are, a couple of factors, in Britain's favour. One is that the preparation, in terms of both time and manpower, has been the most generous that a British squad has ever enjoyed before a series at home.

The failure of our teams in the World Club Championship means that, with the exception of the late addition of Jason Robinson, all Goodway's players have had an unbroken three-week build-up for this match.

Nor have they been short of guidance, as they have had three coaches, a team manager and a technical director all pointing them in the direction of this match. It is the sort of luxury a Great Britain team has all too rarely known in the past, but even a ratio of three coaches per player could not create a convincing team if the raw material is not there.

Not that there is any good reason for Great Britain to feel overawed today. If they are below optimum strength, the same is doubly true of Australia.

These are not the Kangaroos, nor is this an Ashes series as long as the players under the banner of the Australian Rugby League are excluded.

On top of that John Lang is without players of the stature of Steve Renouf, Alan Langer and Bradley Clyde.

It has long been true that Australia have been capable of fielding a second and third team which could beat anyone else in the world, but by their own standards this is not a strong side.

The Rugby League's chief executive Maurice Lindsay, who has seen numerous tour parties come and go, managed to argue this week that this is "the best 22 players they have ever sent".

Lindsay is too shrewd a judge of a player to genuinely believe that. Indeed that assessment smacked of having alibis ready.

A more realistic appraisal is that Australia have just one indisputable great player in his prime in Laurie Daley, two more in Andrew Ettingshausen and Steve Walters who have been in that category but are now a shade past their best and any number of others who could eventually achieve that sort of ranking.

Great Britain have one man Andrew Farrell - who would be world class in any era - and another in Robinson who would be in any sensible world side.

For the rest of them, it is vital that Goodway gets the right men in the right jobs this afternoon and then gets the very best out of them.

The first key moment of the day will come at 1.15 when he has to name his side. He has at least one insoluble problem here, because there is no way around the fact that all three of his potential scrum halves have obvious shortcomings.

Then he must strive for the right balance in the back row. Paul Sculthorpe will be there, the experience of Chris Joynt gives him a strong case for inclusion and Mick Cassidy has to play as well, both for his tireless industry and for his ability to take over at hooker from James Lowes if needed. The running power of the likes of Adrian Morley and Simon Haughton can then be slipped into and out of the game as appropriate.

Then he merely has to get it right in the backs. Assuming that Paul Newlove and Anthony Sullivan will be one centre and wing, Goodway is left juggling the names of Robinson, Kris Radlinski and Alan Hunte for full-back and the other threequarter positions.

It adds up to a formidable series of equations to be solved. No wonder that Goodway is reluctant to stake the whole success of the series on getting them all correct in his first match in charge.