Carney injury could sour Great Britain's sweet success

Great Britain 38 New Zealand 12
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The Independent Online

Like plain parents with a beautiful child, British rugby league can only look at Saturday's exhilarating performance and wonder where that one came from.

The coaching staff will tell you that there is no mystery about it - that, if you work hard and do the basics, the refinements will follow. Even allowing for that, the way Great Britain ran New Zealand off their feet at Huddersfield falls into the category of a wonderful surprise.

Forty minutes of dashing attacking rugby lifted most of the doom and gloom that had settled over the tournament following two Tri-Nations defeats. Reaching the final will still not be an easy task. The Lions only have to beat Australia by three points - which, in rugby league terms, is a cavalier use of the word "only" - but suddenly anything is possible.

It was with Britain and Bradford's much-maligned half-backs that the triumph began. Paul Deacon was on the way to the game of his life, with some marvellous kicking and the sort of incisive try of which his critics believe him incapable, when he was cruelly removed from the action by Nigel Vagana's forearm.

Deacon's face was a mess, with his coach Brian Noble fearing that he had broken his promise to the player's mother that he would protect his boyish looks. He was immediately ruled out of the rest of the tournament and Vagana should also expect an enforced break when his case is heard this week.

Even without his partner for club and country, Iestyn Harris went on to have what he rightly considered his best game for Great Britain. He hardly wasted a kick, distributed the ball shrewdly and even showed some little flashes of acceleration that recalled his early days at Leeds rather than his second rugby league career at Odsal.

It was little wonder that Noble felt fully vindicated in persevering with him, but if one player mirrors the switchback ride that has been Great Britain's Tri-Nations campaign, it is Brian Carney.

The team's vice-captain, although he resents the emphasis that has been put upon it, had a nightmare at Loftus Road. At Wigan, he was all hard work and good intentions, but at the Galpharm Stadium he was back in business as a truly world-class winger. His two tries were classic examples of the wingman's art, the second even drawing praise, picked up on his microphone, from the referee Tim Mander.

And yet, typically, that was a triumph tinged with possible disaster. Carney felt his dodgy left hamstring go in the act of scoring, played no further part in the game and must be a major doubt for the next make-or-break drama at Hull on Saturday.

Great Britain also finished without Paul Wellens, back to his very best at full-back but nursing an injured knee that could keep him out as well. Those injuries made the last 20 minutes a real struggle against a Kiwi side which, even in defeat, could have scored enough points to secure their own place in the final.

Their situation now is that they need Britain either to lose, or to beat Australia by more than nine points. Both are possible, but then, in this tournament, just about anything is, especially if Noble continues to get such impressive contributions from his bit-part players.

Chev Walker, used almost exclusively as a centre at Leeds, played almost an hour as a second-rower on Saturday night and was simply devastating, running Stuart Fielden - again a colossus, although one forced off temporarily and untypically by a back injury - close as man-of-the-match.

Hull's Jamie Thackray looked born to play the part of the impact forward, coming into the game off the bench for short, damaging bursts. His clubmate Richard Horne did well at half-back and full-back.

Paul Johnson again performed a variety of tasks with quiet efficiency and Gareth Ellis justified his selection with a tough effort at loose forward.

All in all, it was a happier night for the game in this country than had even been hinted at earlier in the tournament, but the Kiwi coach Brian McClennan sounded a warning by predicting that the Australians will defend far better at Hull than his men did at Huddersfield.

How will Britain perform on Saturday? There is no way of knowing and that will be part of the fascination.

Great Britain: Wellens (St Helens); Carney (Wigan), Gleeson (Warrington), Senior (Leeds), Pryce; Harris (Bradford), Deacon; Fielden (all Bradford), Cunningham (St Helens), Morley (Sydney), Peacock, Johnson (both Bradford), Ellis (Leeds). Substitutes used: Higham (St Helens), Walker (Leeds), Thackray, Horne (both Hull).

New Zealand: Webb (NZ Warriors) Webster (Melbourne), Toopi (NZ Warriors), Hape (Bradford), Vatuvei, Vagana (both NZ Warriors), Jones (Les Catalans), Rauhihi (N Queensland), Tony (Hull), Wiki (NZ Warriors), Kidwell (Melbourne), Solomona (Wakefield), Guttenbeil (NZ Warriors). Substitutes used: Faiumu (N Queensland), Asotasi (Canterbury), Anderson (NZ Warriors), Lauitiiti (Leeds).

Referee: T Mander (Australia).