Great Britain team-mates rally to Fielden's cause

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The Independent Online

Great Britain's players have been rallying around Stuart Fielden during turbulent times for the Wigan front-rower. He is struggling to come to terms not only with his own high expectations but also with the loss of his mother to liver cancer shortly before the Lions tour party set off for the Tri-Nations series.

Jamie Peacock, the Great Britain captain and a former team-mate of Fielden at the Bradford Bulls, has revealed that the players closest to the formidable front-rower have been offering him their support as he tries to deal with his grief.

"We are helping him out," Peacock said. "It's nice for him to know that there is someone else there." The Lions coach, Brian Noble, said that he had been aware of Fielden's turmoil since his family tragedy. "We discussed it before he came away and this is one of the things he wanted to do," Noble said.

The coach insisted that Fielden, the prop he signed from Bradford for Wigan for a world-record fee in mid-season, had never sought to use his bereavement as an excuse for his relative lack of form in the tournament so far.

Since arriving in the southern hemisphere with a massive reputation as an enforcer, Fielden has struggled through the defeat by New Zealand in Christchurch on a suspect knee and lasted less than half the game against Australia in Sydney. That match was only three minutes old when he squared up to Australia's loose cannon Willie Mason, exchanged words, and then was floored by a right hook that left him dazed and ineffectual for the rest of his limited time on the field.

Mason has since been banned for one Test and fined A$5,000 (£2,000) although Fielden has described that penalty as harsh. He does, however, dispute Mason's version of events before the blow.

"There have been a whole lot of untruths spoken about what happened and how much was said leading up to the incident," Fielden said.

"We're supposed to have had a 10-minute conversation in five seconds. It sounds like we were pen pals, the amount we were supposed to have been talking. As for him saying he hit before he was hit first, I would hardly hit him in the third minute, would I? Self-defence? I didn't have any defence. I'd pushed him away."

Fielden also defended the fact that after Mason hit him, he hit the deck. "I can take a punch as well as the next man," he said. "But if you get caught sweet it doesn't matter if you are Lennox Lewis, if you get caught sweet, you go down."

Despite that Fielden, one of the most self-critical of players, will tomorrow face the Kiwi hard-nuts like Ruben Wiki and David Kidwell - who had a spectacular altercation with Mason earlier in the season - with the reputation for toughness to rebuild.

"His ego has taken a bit of a punching," Noble said. "He recognises that he has not played to his best so far in the tournament. He sets himself pretty high standards, as you do when you are driven as he is, and I think the New Zealand public will experience that this weekend." Despite having what Noble described as "his marbles scrambled" last Saturday, Fielden is regarded as "100 per cent certain to play" in Wellington, having passed a test to ascertain that there had been no change in his brain patterns as early as Monday.

Although Fielden has accepted that his long-term contract at Wigan has probably put paid to his other ambition of playing in Australia's National Rugby League, he is still zealous about his reputation in the southern hemisphere and has resented jibes about having a glass jaw this week.

Perhaps surprisingly, he is about to put his boxing skills to the test again, fighting a charity bout against another Bradford former team-mate, Lee Radford, as a fund-raiser for Steve Prescott, the former St Helens and Hull full-back who is fighting stomach cancer. "That is a cause close to my heart," Fielden said. So is proving his resilience in Wellington tomorrow.