Australia increase pressure on rookie referee

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The Independent Online

The Build-up to this evening's keenly anticipated Tri-Nations match between Great Britain and Australia has taken place place under a black cloud cast by a refereeing controversy.

The Build-up to this evening's keenly anticipated Tri-Nations match between Great Britain and Australia has taken place place under a black cloud cast by a refereeing controversy.

Glen Black, the New Zealand official to take charge of the match at the City of Manchester Stadium, is the subject of sustained fury from the Australian camp, which simply does not believe that he is up to the job. The Kangaroos' coach, Wayne Bennett, a man who chooses his words carefully, made his views clear yesterday.

"I don't believe he'll be biased or doesn't know the rules," he said. "The issue is that the speed of the game is going to be something he's never seen before."

Apart from two outings in Super League and this week's Anzacs game in Cumbria, Black has done his refereeing in New Zealand's Bartercard Cup, a competition several notches below those in Australia and Britain. Bennett said that he would have been content with a British referee for both the games between the two countries, but accused the Rugby League of preferring a referee who will not be capable of policing the rucks.

"Logically, that is what England [Great Britain] will want, because our game is built on those fundamentals," Bennett said, warning of the "frustration and bitterness" such a situation could cause. "Players will take things into their own hands; that's what I know about footballers."

Great Britain's Brian Noble has played the issue very differently, hoping that the referee could be "invisible and anonymous". "We've not focused too much on the referee," he said. "I just hope it doesn't put undue pressure on Mr Black to make some decisions that swing the play to Australia."

The league's director in charge of match officials, Stuart Cummings, spoke out in Black's defence. "He has surpassed the fitness standards that are required of Super League referees in this country," he said. "The appointment of the referee should not be allowed to become the centre of attention."

Of the other participants at a stadium staging rugby league for the first time, much attention will be concentrated on Brett Kimmorley. The Cronulla scrum-half tormented Great Britain so consistently last autumn that it was surprising not to find him involved in this tournament from the start. An injury to Darren Lockyer created an opportunity, however, and he seized it with a fine performance for the combined Australia and New Zealand side at Workington in midweek.

With Craig Fitzgibbon ruled out by a shoulder injury, Andrew Ryan comes into the second row, while the virus that has affected Shaun Timmins and Ben Kennedy gives Scott Hill his chance from the bench.

Noble will not reveal his starting line-up until an hour before kick-off, but the indications are that he may well start with Paul Sculthorpe at stand-off, with Danny McGuire among the substitutes. There would be a strong argument for starting with the dazzling Leeds half-back, but Noble is likely to exercise caution.

Not so with Sean Long at scrum-half, who says he has been given "a more assertive role" by his new Test coach.

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