Fitzgibbon's boot is primed to bury Britain

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The Independent Online

Before a fired-up Great Britain concede any penalties in the second Ashes Test tomorrow, they should bear in mind that, in this country at least, Craig Fitzgibbon is the man who never misses.

Kicks for goal are not the defining feature of international rugby league that they have been in the rugby union World Cup, but Fitzgibbon's unforgiving boot is exceptional enough to deserve special consideration.

In his games here for the tourists, as well as in the Sydney Roosters' victory over St Helens in this year's World Club Challenge, he has been a model of metronomic accuracy. "I've been pretty lucky that a fair few of them have been in front of the sticks," he says. "As well as that, the football over here is pretty good to kick with. If you hit it right, it stays in line."

There is a lot more to Fitzgibbon than his ultra-reliable goal-kicking. His all-round second-row play made him the man of the match when the Roosters beat the New Zealand Warriors in last year's Grand Final and, once he recovered from knee surgery, he was always destined to be on this tour.

He is also a player with more insight than most into the British camp because his first Grand Final in Australia was for the St George-Illawarra side coached by David Waite.

When players who have worked with the Great Britain coach get together, they tend to compare notes on whether they understood everything that he was on about, but Fitzgibbon evinces little but respect for him.

"He's a very astute judge of the game," he says. "Anyone who has been coached by him knows what a good judge of a player he is. You can't get into the business of comparing coaches, but Chris Anderson keeps it pretty simple. They're both excellent coaches in their different ways."

More perhaps than some people in this country, Fitzgibbon has got used to an Australian - and his old mentor - coaching Great Britain. "It's part of world sport now," he says. "There are coaches all over the world, coaching countries that aren't their own, and they all seem quite good at what they're doing." Nor does he find anything odd in lining up tomorrow against the man who is his regular second-row partner at the Roosters - Adrian Morley.

The two had the briefest of reunions when Morley was sent off after just 12 seconds at Wigan last Saturday, but Fitzgibbon knows how important he will be to Great Britain at Hull. "He took some criticism when he first came to Australia, but I always knew that he had it in him and that I'd rather be playing with him than against him. He's really come to the fore this year."

Fitzgibbon has no recollection of the tackle on Robbie Kearns for which Morley was dismissed - thanks to one he took from Terry Newton soon after - but he is prepared to be a character witness for his club colleague. "He's not a cheap-shot merchant - no way in the world. Anyone who knows him knows that he's a genuinely hard but fair, aggressive type of player."

Fitzgibbon has sounded less enthusiastic this week about Newton, whose high shot took him out of the middle section of the game at Wigan - "I can't remember much about the first half at all," he admits. However, Britain's performance with 12 men at the JJB Stadium has given Australia pause for thought. "I was very impressed with how well they played with 12 men on the field. I think they'll be pretty happy with that performance and, if I was in their shoes, I'd be pretty confident about the next two Tests."

Confident they might be, but they must beware Fitzgibbon. His history on these shores shows that he will turn an indiscretion in the tackle into two points, and four points into six, with monotonous regularity. Between these two sides, that could make all the difference.

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