England have put their faith in Darrell Goulding for their opening match of the Four Nations against New Zealand in Wellington tomorrow. The uncapped Wigan winger has been drafted in to replace Leeds' Ryan Hall, who has not recovered from a hamstring injury.
Goulding started the season unable to force his way into the Warriors' first-team after returning from a loan spell with Salford. He ended it with 30 tries and a place on tour. As he is likely to play in his Wigan position on the right flank, he will be up against the most feared Kiwi three-quarter, Manu Vatuvei, the man they call "The Beast". The England coach, Steve McNamara, is confident, however, that he will cope with the challenge.
"Darrell has had a fantastic Super League season," he said. "He has been strong defensively, taken a lot of tough carries and done a lot of the unnoticed things. Plus he really knows how to put the ball over the line."
England's other injury worry appears to have resolved itself, with Sam Tomkins passed fit after taking a knock to the pelvis. He will need to be at his sharpest if England are to take advantage of limited scoring opportunities.
Another talking point in McNamara's selection is the inclusion of Stuart Fielden as a starting prop after four years out of the Test team. There is no doubt that Fielden is up for this game. Last week before the Maori match, he roared out the national anthem, although he was in a television booth rather than on the pitch.
Darrell Griffin has been preferred on the bench to his Huddersfield team-mate Eorl Crabtree, despite the latter's impact with his off-loads against the Maori. It is to be hoped that his omission is not a sign of conservatism with the ball, because that approach is unlikely to serve England well.
They are up against a Kiwi combination with an established core of players that their coach, Stephen Kearney, can use in a variety of formats. For this one, he has opted for Wigan's Thomas Leuluai at hooker, Isaac Luke ready to come on from the bench and create havoc with his pace and Nathan Fien at scrum-half. The constant is Benji Marshall at stand-off. He was called "a superb player" by McNamara and, Darren Lockyer notwithstanding, he has a strong claim to being the most creative figure in the world game. No side with him in it can ever be boring.
Another signal of Kearney's intentions is the selection at prop of two forwards, Adam Blair and Greg Eastwood, who are easily fast enough to play in the back row. Kearney no longer uses the term "prop" – these two are his "ruck forwards." The question is whether England can combat their pace and mobility. "We need to belt 'em," said one observer yesterday. You would feel more confident of them doing that with Jamie Peacock and Adrian Morley available. "But it's time for others to step up to the mark," McNamara said.
Four nations fixtures
Tomorrow New Zealand v England (8am).
Sunday Australia v Papua New Guinea (6am).
30 October New Zealand v PNG (6am).
31 October Australia v England (7.30am).
6 November England v PNG (5am); New Zealand v Australia (7.15am).
13 November Final (Brisbane, 9am).Reuse content