Lockyer hopes to mark caps milestone by avenging loss
Darren Lockyer will go into a category of his own as an Australian Test player when he leads the Kangaroos out at the Stoop tonight. Captaining his country against New Zealand in their opening game of the Gillette Four Nations will take Lockyer to 47 caps, one more than Mal Meninga, the legendary figure he grew up admiring.
"I've got very close with Mal over the years with Queensland in State of Origin, so it makes it very special to overtake him," he said.
At 32, this will probably be Lockyer's last trip to England, although he has not entirely ruled out a last hurrah in the Four Nations in two years' time, followed by a stint in Super League.
A more immediate concern for him is to get on top of a Kiwi side that has given Australia plenty of problems in recent years. Lockyer was injured for New Zealand's shock 28-0 win in the Four Nations final in 2005, but he led Australia in last year's equally unexpected World Cup final defeat.
Australia's victory in the mid-season Trans-Tasman Test partly banished the bitter taste of that loss. For phase two of the bid to re-establish themselves as the world's best, Australia will look to their formidable backline.
Injury has deprived them of the brilliant Israel Folau from last year's World Cup three-quarter line, while Karmichael Hunt has gone off on a weird career tangent that involves playing both Australian rules and rugby union. Against that, they have the dazzling Jarryd Hayne, who played for Fiji in the World Cup, but has reclaimed his Australian qualification after a season in which he was generally rated the best player in the NRL.
New Zealand have their own complicated case in Fuifui Moimoi, who last played for them two years ago and spent the whole of the World Cup fighting an unsuccessful legal case to be allowed to play for Tonga.
Back in the black, he adds his unique brand of explosive running and big hitting in defence to the Kiwi mix. Greg Eastwood is being held back for a week with a hamstring tweak, but that gives a starting place to Adam Blair, who was outstanding in the World Cup. With Nathan Cayless out, the captaincy passes to Benji Marshall.
The weekend also sees the launch of the European Cup, for the layer of countries below Four Nations standard. Italy, massacred 104-0 by Scotland in a warm-up match last week, have an equally daunting task against Lebanon in Tripoli tonight, while Wales begin their long trek towards the 2013 World Cup in Serbia.
Bradford have beaten Celtic Crusaders to sign Danny Sculthorpe, the Wakefield forward who spent part of last season on loan to Huddersfield.
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