Connolly returns as England gamble

RUGBY LEAGUE CENTENARY WORLD CUP FINAL: If they keep their heads the hosts have class and self-belief to win in style

DAVE HADFIELD

England have taken a massive gamble by including Gary Connolly, who has not played for five weeks because of pneumonia, in their starting line-up for the final of the Halifax Centenary World Cup at Wembley this afternoon.

The Wigan centre was ruled out of the tournament before it even began, but such are his powers of recovery - and the faith that the England coach, Phil Larder, has in him - that he leap-frogged into the side after training yesterday, with Barrie-Jon Mather dropping to substitute.

"Gary will start the game and we hope to get at least 50 minutes out of him," Larder said.

A fit Connolly is worth his place in any side in the world and that is what the player insists he is. "A few week ago, I couldn't have dreamed of playing," he said. "But now I feel fine and I'm sure I won't let the lads down."

If England are taking a risk here, they need to take more on the field if they are to take the trophy. Although Phil Larder regards what happened in the last World Cup final three years ago as ancient history, there is an important lesson to be gleaned.

It was the one match a British side has lost to Australia at Wembley since international rugby league went back there, and it was lost because the British game-plan was predicated on not making a single defensive mistake for 80 minutes.

Great Britain tried to close the game up, made their one mistake and lost it. They need to be far more expansive today, because, if they are, they have the talent to give a marvellous tournament the pay-off line it deserves by winning in style.

Individually and collectively, England have been impressive in this World Cup. Notwithstanding the contrasting excellence of Australia's second- rowers, Steve Menzies and Gary Larson, England's back-row of Denis Betts, Phil Clarke and Andy Farrell is the best in the world.

Just as important has been how well the front row has functioned. When Karl Harrison, Lee Jackson and Andy Platt have been together, they have hardly put a foot wrong. And while the loss of a competitor like Shaun Edwards is a blow, there is a theory, shared by most of the Australians, that Bobbie Goulding is harder to read.

It is another injury, this time to Daryl Powell, that has given Tony Smith his chance at stand-off - and he has grasped it eagerly. His pace always gives him the chance of cottoning on to a half-break from a team- mate and he also more than earned his corn defensively in the semi-final victory over Wales.

Today could even be the day when Martin Offiah rediscovers his confidence. Even without him at his best, Jason Robinson and Paul Newlove rank as two of the world's most dangerous attackers and Kris Radlinski has been a revelation at full-back.

Most of all, the mood is right, with Betts, a success as replacement captain, saying: "I've never known such confidence in the team. We have a belief that we can beat anybody."

Against all this, Australia have their formidable strength as a unit. They might lack obvious star quality in some areas - Mark Coyne and Terry Hill at centre are no Miles and Meninga - but they remain ingrained with efficiency and know-how.

For any coach other than Bob Fulton, the tournament would have been full of unwelcome distractions, beginning with his tireless advocacy of the ARL versus Super League, continuing with his obligatory complaint over refereeing and the controversy over what he, and his wife, said to the director of referees, Greg McCallum.

However, Fulton thrives on these distractions. He goes out of his way to create them and England must not kid themselves that Australia will be adversely affected.

Where they can be caught out - apart from Connolly coughing on them - is by England, with an English referee on duty, continuing to play to an English idea of what constitutes lying on in the tackle.

If they keep their heads there and Australia lose theirs the way they did against New Zealand, the League will have to pay a promised pounds 250,000 bonus to England, but will save on air freight costs. The trophy will not be flying out.

ENGLAND v AUSTRALIA

at Wembley

Kris Radlinski Wigan 1 Tim Brasher Sydney Tigers

Jason Robinson Wigan 2 Rod Wishart Illawarra

Gary Connolly Wigan 3 Mark Coyne St George

Paul Newlove Bradford Bulls 4 Terry Hill Manly

Martin Offiah Wigan 5 Brett Dallas Sydney Bulldogs

Tony Smith Castleford 6 Brad Fittler Penrith, capt

Bobbie Goulding St Helens 7 Geoff Toovey Manly

Karl Harrison Halifax 8 Dean Pay Sydney Bulldogs

Lee Jackson Newastle Knights 9 Andrew Johns Newcastle Kn

Andy Platt Auckland 10 Mark Carroll Manly

Denis Betts Auckland, capt 11 Steve Menzies Manly

Phil Clarke Sydney City 12 Gary Larson North Sydney

Andy Farrell Wigan 13 Jim Dymock Sydney Bulldogs

Referee: Stuart Cummings (Widnes) Kick-off: 2.50pm BBC1

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + uncapped commission : SThree: Hello! I know most ...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Web Performance Consultant Trainee

£22000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Consultant trainee opportunit...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Executive - (Full marketing mix) - Knutsford

£22000 - £25000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Executive - Knu...

Ashdown Group: Web Developer - ASP.NET, C#, MVC - London

£45000 - £55000 per annum + Excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Web Developer -...

Day In a Page

Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss
Tony Blair joins a strange and exclusive club of political leaders whose careers have been blighted by the Middle East

Blair has joined a strange and exclusive club

A new tomb has just gone up in the Middle East's graveyard of US and British political reputations, says Patrick Cockburn
Election 2015: Meet the top 12 wacky candidates seeking your vote in May

Election 2015

Meet the top 12 wacky candidates seeking your vote in May
Countdown to the election: Operation Save Danny Alexander shifts into high gear as the SNP target his Commons seat

Operation Save Danny Alexander shifts into high gear

The Chief Secretary to the Treasury didn’t forget his Highland roots in the Budget. But the SNP is after his Commons seat
The US economy is under threat because of its neglected infrastructure

The US is getting frayed at the edges

Public spending on infrastructure is only half of Europe’s, and some say the nation’s very prosperity is threatened, says Rupert Cornwell
Mad Men final episodes: Museum exhibition just part of the hoopla greeting end of 1960s-set TV hit

New Yorkers raise a glass to Mad Men

A museum exhibition is just part of the hoopla greeting the final run of the 1960s-set TV hit
Land speed record: British-built hybrid rocket car aims to be the fastest on Earth

British-built hybrid rocket car aims to be the fastest on Earth

Bloodhound SSC will attempt to set a new standard in South Africa's Kalahari desert
Housebuilders go back to basics by using traditional methods and materials

Housebuilders go back to basics - throwing mud at the wall until it sticks

Traditional materials are ticking all the construction boxes: they are cheap, green – and anyone can use them
Daniel Brühl: 'When you have success abroad, you become a traitor. Envy is very German'

Daniel Brühl: 'Envy is very German'

He's got stick for his golden acting career and for his beloved restaurant - but Daniel Brühl is staying put in Berlin (where at least the grannies love him)
How Leica transformed photography for ever: Celebrating 100 years of the famous camera

Celebrating 100 years of Leica

A new book reveals how this elegant, lightweight box of tricks would transform the way we saw life on the street and in fashion, on the battlefield and across the world