Going the full distance shows Carney is ready to subdue Australians

Great Britain's Irish winger returns to form after overcoming a niggling injury
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The Independent Online

When Brian Carney finally came through a full 80 minutes of rugby last Saturday, you could have heard the sigh of relief back home in Wicklow.

When Brian Carney finally came through a full 80 minutes of rugby last Saturday, you could have heard the sigh of relief back home in Wicklow.

Wigan's Irish winger is such an important player to Great Britain in the Tri-Nations that the national side seemed to be doing with him what they have done with others in the past - including him in their plans more in hope than expectation.

The omens were not good. It was almost two months since he had completed a game for Wigan. Even in his first Tri-Nations match against Australia, he had scored a spectacular try in the first half, only to be forced off with a tightening hamstring early in the second.

It has been the most frustrating time of Carney's career, during which he began to suspect that people thought his problem was more in his head than in his leg.

"But it wasn't a confidence problem with me. I was always confident that the leg would be OK if Brian Noble picked me."

There was never much doubt that the Great Britain coach would do that. "He's had a word with me from time to time," Carney says. "It might only be a passing word, but it shows you that he's thinking about you and you're in his plans."

All that faith was vindicated last Saturday at Huddersfield as Carney finally went the full distance, much to his own relief. "I was giggling away to myself all night there."

It was not necessarily his most eye-catching performance, but, with the important part of the Tri-Nations still to come, one of his most significant. "To the untrained eye, it might seem as though, if a winger isn't scoring tries, he isn't doing much at all, but a lot of my game revolves around giving the side some go-forward from dummy half.

"If I never scored another try and I've got the team going forward, I've done my job."

Another part of his job today will be to handle the threat of his Australian opposite number, Luke Rooney, compared by his coach, Wayne Bennett, to a young Billy Boston and unable to stop scoring tries since bursting on to the international scene in this tournament.

"I watch all the Australian games on the TV, so I saw him playing in the Grand Final for Penrith. He's a tremendous athlete and a great finisher."

The question that will never be answered is whether he would have scored the try that finished off Great Britain two weeks ago if Carney had still been on the field. "You're bound to wonder what you would have done. Last time he cut us apart a couple of times; the good thing is that we've got another chance to put it right."

Carney could spend longer on the field than anyone at Wigan tonight. Against New Zealand, he spent part of the half-time break jogging and flexing on the pitch to prevent his hamstring seizing up.

"What you don't want to do is sit on a bench and let the hamstring shorten and then go straight into intense effort."

Carney spent the rest of last weekend watching and commentating on his fellow countrymen losing honourably to England in the final of the European Nations Cup.

As Ireland's prime export to rugby league, he is a great believer in fostering the grass-roots back home, insisting that there are players better than him waiting to be discovered.

Although his route from Gaelic football, to the Irish Students' league side, via Gateshead and Hull to Wigan, brought him into the top flight of the game relatively late, he has stopped thinking of himself as a new arrival. "When you're playing against the best players in the world, you can't be thinking 'Ah, I've not been here very long.' You've got to be world-class yourself."

Carney never forgets where he comes from. He does not sing the national anthem or wrap himself in the Union Jack, for the simple reason that it is not his anthem or his flag - and he is always keen to point out that the badge on the shirt reads "Great Britain and Ireland". That pride, he finds when he is recognised now at home, cuts both ways. "The Irish are very proud of people who make a fist of things," he says. "I'd like to think I've done that."