Great Britain 14 Australia 26: Britain left to reflect on lack of depth

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The Independent Online

Great Britain have lost the fight to reach the final of the Tri-Nations, but they should win the battle this week to preserve the concept. The essential differences between British and Australian rugby league were all too obvious at Hull. The consequence of that is the "hard sell" of a final at Elland Road on Saturday not involving the hosts.

That in itself is enough to suggest to those whose commitment to the international game is paper-thin that staging the tournament in the southern hemisphere as planned this time next year would be an even harder sell.

But Colin Love, chairman of both the Australian Rugby League and the game's International Federation, raised his influential voice in favour of sticking with the plan after Saturday's match.

"You can rest assured it will happen," he said, denying that Britain's failure represented a body blow to the Tri-Nations' viability. "It's unfortunate for Great Britain that they will not be in the final, since the series has been played on their territory," Love said. "But I think that fans will want to see rugby league played at this level by two skillful sides, no matter who they are."

More than 20,000 tickets have already been sold for Saturday's final and Love hopes that the fact that Australia are not due back in this country until 2009 will be an extra selling point. Australia are as well worth watching as ever and will start as obvious favourites against New Zealand.

More than anything, this convincing victory at the KC Stadium was a tribute to their ability to shrug off upheavals in key positions. Already without the world's best two players, Darren Lockyer and Andrew Johns, through injury, their two replacement half-backs did not exactly have a smooth, routine evening.

Craig Gower strained a thigh muscle in the warm-up and his coach, Wayne Bennett, took the risk of playing him rather than drafting in his reserve, Scott Prince. Gower was withdrawn early, but was consistently effective while he was on the field.

The same could be said of his partner, Trent Barrett. He achieved the unusual feat of being sin-binned twice in the game, but the hour he did play was of similarly high quality.

By contrast, Great Britain remain excessively dependent on a relatively small number of players being fit and in form at the same time.

Take the centres, for instance. Neither Martin Gleeson nor Keith Senior have been at the top of their game in this tournament, but the gap between them and the next best in their position is a yawning one.

This state of affairs should be no surprise, however. There are so many overseas centres in Super League that, most weeks, they constitute a majority. The same would be true in other positions as well. The Tri-Nations has proved that something has to be done about this situation, because Great Britain are simply picking from too small a pool of players.

Not that it has all been bad. The best thing about the tournament from a British point of view has been the way that their forwards have demonstrated that they are as good as any in the world.

Players such as Stuart Fielden, Keiron Cunningham and even less regarded contributors such as Paul Johnson and Chev Walker can be proud of their efforts during the series, although it was Adrian Morley who best typified their muscular commitment at Hull.

That was all undermined, however, by the number of basic mistakes they and their team-mates made. Raw recruits Gareth Raynor and Jamie Thackray made errors, but so did much more experienced players.

However, the Great Britain coach, Brian Noble admitted that much of the damage had been done earlier in the series. "We gave ourselves too much of a hill to climb when we lost our first game to New Zealand," he reflected. "One team has to miss out. It could be any one of the three next year."

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

Australia: Minichiello; King, Gasnier, Cooper, Tate; Barrett, Gower; Civoniceva, Buderus, Ryles, O'Donnell, Fitzgibbon, Kennedy. Substitutes used: Wing, Mason, O'Meley, Waterhouse.

Referee: S Ganson (England).

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