Morley still searching for the high ground

The 12-second villain of last year is determined to be the Great Britain talisman this time around
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The Independent Online

When Adrian Morley makes his first tackle of the Gillette Tri-Nations series, British rugby league - providing that it passes off without major incident - will breathe a huge sigh of relief. For this time last year, just 12 seconds into the Ashes series, Morley was sent off after his very first tackle, so setting off a pattern of misadventure which turned a series that could and should have been won into a 3-0 defeat for which he still holds himself largely responsible.

When Adrian Morley makes his first tackle of the Gillette Tri-Nations series, British rugby league - providing that it passes off without major incident - will breathe a huge sigh of relief. For this time last year, just 12 seconds into the Ashes series, Morley was sent off after his very first tackle, so setting off a pattern of misadventure which turned a series that could and should have been won into a 3-0 defeat for which he still holds himself largely responsible.

"I learned a lesson the hard way last season and it won't happen again this year," promises Morley, the Sydney Roosters forward who is the one British player facing the best in the southern hemisphere on a weekly basis. "You've got to be psyched up, but I won't be going bananas like last year. I wanted to put a big hit in for the boys, to get everyone going, but I got a bit too excited."

Morley's high tackle on Robbie Kearns saw him dispatched to the dressing room in a haze of self-reproach. "It was a nightmare. I just thought I had let everyone down. I just sat in the dressing room sulking and feeling sorry for myself and I pretty much blamed myself for the result."

It all means that the former Leeds second-rower goes into this new tournament feeling that he owes his country and his team-mates something this time. It is not easy being Adrian Morley and staying on the right side of the law, however. It is part of his role as an intimidator that he goes in to make big hits around the height that the ball is carried. "You're coached to tackle around there and you only have to be a little bit high to catch them and be in trouble."

His record in Australia this season is not one of a player who has always steered the right side of that line. He has served three suspensions this year, two of them for high tackles on the current Australian half-backs, Craig Gower and Brett Kimmorley.

"There's been nothing malicious," he says. "But it's quite hard if you get a bit of a reputation and it's a bit more strict in Australia. It's also getting to the stage there where if you get hit you stay down, which is taking the sportsmanship out of the game."

Morley's indiscretions on his last trip home were not confined to the field of play. He was also banned from driving after getting bored waiting for a taxi and jumping in his car when he was, by his own admission, "full of drink". It was a particularly embarrassing gaffe at the end of a Test series sponsored by the government's anti-drink driving campaign and another reason why he has promised to be on his best behaviour this time.

For all his celebrity in Australia, where he enjoys a beach-side lifestyle and the sort of profile unknown in league here, playing for Great Britain remains a major priority for Morley. Although he is in the process of applying for Australian residency, he is adamant that will never get in the way of playing for the country of his birth.

There have been suggestions that he could go the whole hog, qualify for citizenship and even play in the State of Origin series - the sort of blood-and-thunder event he would relish. "I would love to find out if I could handle that sort of game, but not if it meant giving up playing for Great Britain."

Five minutes in the company of Adrian Morley would show anyone just how motivated he is for this tournament, especially after seeing Australia and New Zealand in action already. "I think we can beat them both," he says, as thoughts turn to next Saturday's meeting with Australia at the City of Manchester Stadium. "We're not intimidated by either side."

If those brave words are to be matched by action, Morley, now one of the senior players in the squad, must set the right example. Among those for whom he must set a lead are six players from his old club, Leeds, several of whom were only just starting to make their mark when he was lured by the bright lights of Sydney. "Players like Ryan Bailey and Danny Ward have always had the talent. It's just a matter of stepping up to international level and I think they can handle that."

If they are to do so and produce the sort of performances that can beat the Kangaroos and Kiwis, they will need the guidance of the players who have proved they can do it. And that means having Adrian Morley on the pitch and not in the dressing room.

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