Britain's trepidation

Rugby League
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The Independent Online
It is no insult to a determined group of players to say that Great Britain are approaching the Test match against Papua New Guinea tomorrow with some trepidation, not knowing what to expect from either the opposition or the crowd. The side named yesterday by Phil Larder, with its eight new Great Britain caps, is low on international experience and, despite thorough preparation, uncertain of what awaits them here.

Even in the heat and humidity of Papua New Guinea's second city, the Lions should win, but some of their younger players could be excused for fearing that if their opponents do not get them, the spectators will. Despite the entire police force of Mt Hagen being drafted in for the first game on Wednesday, for instance, the referee, Tony Kuni, was still attacked by an irate local official.

It is this volatility that makes touring here such an adventure and which makes the experience of players who have seen it before invaluable. "I found it pretty scary when I first came here," Denis Betts said. "Now I find I can take it in my stride."

Betts and Bobbie Goulding are the only players in the starting line-up who have played a Test here and so much will depend on how the newcomers cope with the unique atmosphere of the game in Papua New Guinea. Larder has had few qualms about giving two of them, the St Helens' winger Joey Hayes and the Wigan prop Terry O'Connor, their first taste of international rugby in these demanding circumstances.

Hayes, 20, has won a Test place after a long-term hamstring injury. His powerful, compact frame and speed off the mark make him the nearest thing to Jason Robinson that the Lions have on this tour and he will be expected to play a similar role to the absent Wigan wing by helping out his forwards in their own 25. O'Connor has been, in Larder's words, "the unsung hero of the Wigan pack". "Whenever I speak to Wigan players they tell me he has been their most important forward," Larder said. "He might not always be noticed, but he's always there, giving 100 per cent."

The others in the starting side who have never played in a Test for Great Britain are the Welsh pair, Iestyn Harris and Keiron Cunningham, and the Sheffield Eagles prop, Paul Broadbent. Three of the four substitutes are also new to Test rugby: Tony Smith, of Castleford, the Welsh forward, Rowland Phillips, and the 19-year-old Paul Sculthorpe. At the other end, the durable Daryl Powell is in line to win his 29th Great Britain cap after an outstanding display at Mt Hagen in mid-week.

The Papua New Guinea coach, Bob Bennett, brother of the illustrious Wayne Bennett of Brisbane Broncos, has also finalised his team. With four players, including the brilliant scrum-half and captain, Adrian Lam, based in Australia and two, Hull KR's Stanley Gene and Markus Bai of Hull, in the side, the Kumuls have more international know-how than at any stage in their history.

Bennett is also drawing on the maximum bulk by fielding four players whose natural position is prop, including Raymond Karl, of Mendi, whose career was interrupted recently by an eight-month suspension for his role in a riot. Great Britain hope that neither he nor they will be involved in another tomorrow.

PAPUA NEW GUINEA: Sio (Lae), Kops (Mt Hagen), Bai (Hull), Tela (Lae), Gomia (Mt Hagen), Gene (Hull KR), Lam (Sydney City), Karl (Mendi), Paiyo (Canberra), Kundi (Lae), Westley (Canberra), Yer (Mendi), Mamando (Canberra). Substitutes: Bire (Kundiawa), Tiri (Mt Hagen), Ruing (Mendi), Batia (Port Moresby).

GREAT BRITAIN: Spruce (Bradford), Hayes (St Helens), Radlinski (Wigan), Hunte (St Helens), Sullivan (St Helens), Harris (Warrington), Goulding (St Helens), O'Connor (Wigan), Cunningham (St Helens), Broadbent (Sheffield), Betts (Auckland), Joynt (St Helens), Farrell (Wigan). Substitutes: Smith (Castleford), Phillips (Workington), Powell (Keighley), Sculthorpe (Warrington).

Referee: S Clark (Australia).