Rowley eager to surprise Australia

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The Independent Online

England's prospects of surprising the overwhelming World Cup favourites at Twickenham this evening hinge on a player the Australians might not have expected to see in this context.

England's prospects of surprising the overwhelming World Cup favourites at Twickenham this evening hinge on a player the Australians might not have expected to see in this context.

The last time they encountered Paul Rowley, he was part of a Halifax side losing by huge margins to their club teams in the 1997 World Club Challenge.

They may also have noticed that he has just signed for Huddersfield, the bottom club in Super League for the last three seasons. Not obvious credentials for the key role of hooker and dummy half against the world champions. "It's to the credit of John Kear that he's picked players on form, not what they've done before," said Rowley. "He's fair and open-minded."

If youth is a theme of Kear's team for today's demanding encounter - with Leon Pryce and Stuart Fielden in the starting line-up and Paul Wellens and Kevin Sinfield on the bench - then the inclusion of Rowley as the only specialist hooker is equally significant. Playing largely out of sight at Leigh and Halifax, his ability to find gaps and set up play could just catch the Australians unawares.

Kear also plans to switch Tony Smith into the role at some stage and the impetus England get from the play-theball will be vital to any hopes of pressurising the opposition.

Although Kear will not officially name his team until it is confirmed that Paul Sculthorpe is not fit, he has decided to start with Fielden and Harvey Howard at prop, with his other two front-rowers due to come into the game in the first half. His other substitutes, Wellens and Sinfield, also have a strategic role, because they cover so many positions between them.

However, sceptics will say it does not matter how Kear perms his resources, because there is not enough quality to go round. That worry is strongest in the backs, where the absence of Jason Robinson - decamped to union and helpfully declaring that England have no chance - means Kris Radlinski must play out of position on the left wing. He is such a good pro that how he will fare there is less of a concern than how England will manage without him at full-back and centre. Scott Naylor and Keith Senior are big, strapping lads and strong runners, but can be found wanting positionally.

One of the most encouraging signs so far has been Kear urging Sean Long to play his natural, free-wheeling game at scrum-half - not an instruction every coach would have the courage to deliver before such a match. "In the past, coaches have tried to put a block on the flair and play a more structured game," said Long. "You have to have that structure and we do have it, but John telling me to do it as I see it has given me a lot of confidence." Whether Smith is the half-back partner for Long with that philosophy remains to be seen, but it would not be surprising to see Andy Farrell or even young Sinfield at stand-off at some stage.

The big question in the forwards is whether Adrian Morley's injured sternum stands up and enables him to make the impact of which he is capable. He was the one Pom who impressed the Aussies in defeat in Brisbane last year, but they are a better side these days.

The first rugby league match at Twickenham involves what is being built up by some as the best Australian side ever. That has to be tested - and it is possible England can provide that test. "Our aim is to make our country proud of us," said Kear. "If we play as we can, I'm sure we're capable of doing that."

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