Noble nurtures winning mentality

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The Independent Online

For Great Britain, today's Tri-Nations contest against New Zealand is all about sustaining a winning habit and a momentum to take into the final next weekend.

For Great Britain, today's Tri-Nations contest against New Zealand is all about sustaining a winning habit and a momentum to take into the final next weekend.

For the Kiwis, it is more a matter of avoiding something close to humiliation. After leading in the opening match of the tournament against Australia in Auckland and eventually drawing it, they have lost to both the other nations and know that they are flying home tomorrow.

They will do so into a storm of criticism. Their former coach, Graham Lowe, wrote this week that "two consecutive second halves of shirked effort have consigned this Kiwi team to embarrassing also-rans".

Much depends at Hull today on how the New Zealanders react to that sort of dismissive verdict. The signs are not good. They are without their captain and senior player, Ruben Wiki, and their most impressive younger one, Sonny Bill Williams, there has been illness in the camp this week and rumours of late nights and players mentally on the plane home.

The Great Britain coach, Brian Noble, wants his side to expect a defiant New Zealand. "They are a very well coached, professional side and they will not want to go home without a win in the tournament," he said. "We are expecting a very tough game."

With that in mind, Noble has kept his team changes to a logical minimum, with four members of his first-choice pack rested, but the rest of the team being asked to carry on the good work. That includes Andy Farrell, who has shouldered a massive workload for club and country this year, but reacted with disdain to any suggestions that he should break his record run of 33 international appearances. "I didn't have to say anything to Brian, because he knew that everyone wanted to play," said Farrell, whose leadership is so central to his side.

Noble's policy is likely to mean that Brian Carney will play as well. After his injury-plagued season, he seemed an over-optimistic selection for the Tri-Nations, but his combative performances on the wing have been hugely important to his side.

Barring injuries, there are few places up for grabs for the final next Saturday, because Noble has a healthily settled side. There is one theory, though, that he might yet fancy using a second hooker against Australia, which means that there is every incentive for Matt Diskin, who starts in place of Terry Newton, and Mickey Higham, who will probably be on the bench, to show what they can do.

In Toulouse tomorrow, all Australian eyes will be on their captain, Darren Lockyer, as he tries to demonstrate that he has recovered sufficiently from his rib injury to face Great Britain next week. Jason Ryles is also back in action to try to reclaim his place for the final.

Important as these two fixtures are to their participants, there could be a more important battle to be fought at the meeting of the game's International Federation next Tuesday.

Almost incredibly in view of its success, some Australian clubs are agitating for the Tri-Nations not to take place next year. Tuesday is the first chance for them to be told how wrong-headed and selfish that would be. Those who want the format to go from strength to strength got influential support yesterday from one of Australia's leading administrators, the South Sydney and former Hull chief executive, Shane Richardson.

"What these people are saying is not the general view," he said. "The public want international football and so do the players. This is rugby league's biggest success for 20 years and it would be a disgrace if it doesn't continue."