Bennett promises Great Britain a hard path to final

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The Independent Online

Great Britain can forget all about Australia giving them an easy passage to the Tri-Nations final, the Australian coach and architect of the tournament has warned.

Great Britain can forget all about Australia giving them an easy passage to the Tri-Nations final, the Australian coach and architect of the tournament has warned.

The Tri-Nations format was the brainchild of Wayne Bennett and nobody wants it to succeed more avidly than he does. Its success would be more assured if Great Britain beat Australia at Wigan today to set up another meeting between the two countries at Elland Road on 27 November.

Bennett knows that there will be whispers that the Kangaroos have "gone easy" on their opponents if they lose at the JJB, but he dismisses them out of hand and in advance.

"It's quite possible that we're going to lose to Great Britain," he said. "But if it happens it won't be because we want them in the final. It will be because they play the better football.

"I'll coach them as hard as I did last time and I've picked the best team I can." That business-as-usual approach is underlined by his decision to go for the extra power of Mark O'Meley on the bench, rather than the dazzling attacking prowess of Matt Bowen. O'Meley has been arguably the form prop in Australia this year and his inclusion will not weaken them one iota.

The return of the goal-kicking second-rower Craig Fitzgibbon makes their starting pack even more formidable than it was two weeks ago and, although Brett Kimmorley and Scott Hill did not arrive as the first-choice half-backs, they have done too much damage against Great Britain in the past to be regarded as any sort of weak link.

Kimmorley tormented his opponents throughout last year's Ashes series, but accepts that he and Hill will step down if Darren Lockyer and Craig Gower are fit for the final.

Gower, kept out of this match by a groin injury, has had other things on his mind apart from his fitness problems. He took time off this week for Salford to show him their plans for the future, including a proposed new stadium by the Manchester Ship Canal.

"We had a talk with him and showed him around," said the club's director of rugby, Steve Simms, who is confident of signing Gower on a three-year deal starting in 2006. "He seemed pretty keen." Meanwhile, Kimmorley and Hill will be keen to show that they should not be lightly discarded and the Great Britain coach, Brian Noble, believes that Australia could be all the more dangerous for including fringe players with something to prove.

Noble's fine-tuning of his own side depends on the lingering effects of illness within the British camp. So far, he has only lost Iestyn Harris, which makes it easier for him to stick with Danny McGuire at stand-off after an encouraging second-half display against New Zealand last week.

Another encouragement for Great Britain is that they are on the brink of the final without yet having produced their best in all departments. Their kicking game has plenty of room for improvement and a proven international match-winner like Keith Senior has yet to rediscover his best attacking form.

The Leeds centre, such a dominant player in Great Britain's last couple of series, has been sound enough defensively, but is due for a big game with the ball in hand.

It is 50 years to the day since Great Britain won the inaugural World Cup. Eight surviving members of that side will take part in a pre-match parade, which should inspire their successors with a sense of history. They can carve out their own little niche today, but they will expect no favours.