England primed but can they handle Aussie skill?

 

International rugby league returns to Wembley today, with four nations determined, in their different ways, to put on a good show for the code.

The last Test at the old stadium was 14 years ago, when an Australian team weakened by the Super League wars still thumped Great Britain 38-14.

The RFL hopes to top the 41,135 crowd that day, but many who will be at the new Wembley fear something similar happening this afternoon when Australia take on England.

Australia still have Darren Lockyer, the one survivor from 1997, plus the official best player in the world in Billy Slater. Greg Inglis is back – and looking trim and hungry – after a three-month injury lay-off, while among the new faces is Akuila Uate, a Fijian-born winger with quite electrifying pace.

Perhaps more fundamental is the style they have adopted in the pack, where Paul Gallen, a converted loose forward, and Matt Scott, are as mobile a combination as you will find.

Against that, England have a settled team, unchanged for an unprecedented third game in a row, and a pack that commands respect.

Whether they can live with Australia when the ball goes wide is one of the questions that needs to be answered.

Another is whether Rangi Chase is capable of dominating a game the way England want him to. So far, he has flitted in and out of games, showing touches of great skill, without quite dominating them. His combination with Kevin Sinfield has potential, but it needs to come to full fruition today.

For Wales, success in the earlier match will consist of keeping New Zealand's score down. Apart from anything else, that would help England if, as seems likely, qualification for the final comes down to points difference. Iestyn Harris hopes to have Chris Beasley, Lloyd White and Peter Lupton back after injury.

New Zealand are holders of the Four Nations and the World Cup. They have not shown any of that quality this year, but that is typical of the way they have started other successful campaigns. If there is one player in today's double-header who is capable of lighting up Wembley, it is their stand-off and captain, Benji Marshall. His skills could help to make it a day to remember for rugby league in the capital.

Today: Wales v New Zealand (1.0pm); England v Australia 3.30pm

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