Fulton plays down Australia's chances

Dave Hadfield hears the canny Kangaroos' coach engage in kidology
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The Independent Online
It is a tricky line to walk, denying that you are favourites for the World Cup while insisting that you have brought your best side to rugby league's showpiece, but the Australian coach, Bob Fulton, managed it with some aplomb at Manchester Airport.

Australia became the first World Cup side to fly in yesterday, albeit without many of the players who have become household names on recent tours. Despite being ordered by a court to consider players who have defected to the rival Super League, Australia arrived without any of the rebels.

"They were considered, but we have brought what we regard as the strongest side available," said Fulton, who believes that the Super League will not even kick off as planned next season.

Veterans of Fulton press conferences at airports would have recognised the stress caused by the enormity of the job. "We face our toughest task of all time," he said. But that is due not to the missing faces, he said, but to the lack of match practice caused by the tournament director, Maurice Lindsay, forbidding any warm-up games.

"I know it is the same for everyone, but many of our players have not played for six or eight weeks," Fulton said. "I don't know how we can be regarded as favourites. Joint favourites, perhaps, at best."

Dressed in blazers and braided caps, the arriving Australians may look like overgrown schoolboys, but they still have a depth of quality in all positions that Fulton's other joint favourites, England, can only envy.

All landed safely, apart from the goal-kicking winger, Rod Wishart, who is staying in Australia for an extra few days following the birth of his son.

Officials from competing nations have been banned from approaching referees before or after matches. The tournament's director of referees, Greg McCallum, said any requests for meetings with referees to clarify interpretations must go through him and that he would be present at any discussions. No contact at all will be allowed on match days, to try to avoid any suggestion of referees being swayed.

Referees and touch-judges will be in radio contact throughout all World Cup games. In-goal judges will also be used and any players sent off will be dealt with by an international panel within 36 hours.

The Western Samoan forward Vila Matautia has escaped a ban that could have ruled him out of the World Cup. He was found guilty of persistent foul play in last week's match against Warrington and fined pounds 300 but not suspended. Another Samoan forward, Robert Piva, has been traced in New Zealand after losing contact with the squad.

Ireland, competing in the Emerging Nations tournament, have lost a player with the decision of Rody Corrigan to withdraw rather than jeopardise his parallel rugby union career.