Lee Smith has confirmed his status as the man who came from nowhere to claim a World Cup place by being named to face Papua New Guinea in the tournament opener. The Leeds winger or full-back has been selected on the left flank for the game in Townsville tomorrow.
That recognition makes it a remarkable turnaround for a young player who looked to be on his way out at the Rhinos earlier this season. Out of form and badly affected by the jailing of his father on drug charges, Smith was told he was free to find another club. Instead, he insisted that he wanted to stay and played his way back into contention.
"I was struggling for form and fitness, which is just something that happens to players, but over the last six or seven weeks of the season I finished strongly," he said.
"Now I've been given my chance and, if I play well, I can make it hard to leave me out. I'm expecting PNG to be very tough and physical, but I'm really looking forward to it."
The other talking point in a side that largely picks itself is the decision to start with James Graham, rather than Adrian Morley, who is on the bench.
"Adrian hasn't had much rugby recently, while James has been sensational, so he probably deserves his starting place," said the England coach, Tony Smith, who also had a tricky choice in allocating the last place on his bench to Jon Wilkin, ahead of the rival claims of Rob Purdham and Jamie Jones-Buchanan. "It's always very difficult to leave out players who you feel would have done a very good job for you," Smith said.
The England coach has been seeking a pre-match meeting with the Australian referee, Shane Hayne, over some variations in interpretations between the NRL and Super League.
Tonga have been given permission to challenge the ruling of the game's International Federation that Fuifui Moimoi and Taniela Tuiaki cannot play for them because they represented New Zealand last season.
The case is being heard in Sydney today, just three days before Tonga's opening game against Ireland.
The coach of France, John Monie, has named seven players from the successful Catalan Dragons in his starting line-up to meet Scotland on Sunday.
The Scots have named all three Henderson brothers in their 17, with the NRL Grand Final hat-trick scoring winger, Michael Robertson, picked at full-back.
England team to play Papua New Guinea at Townsville tomorrow (9.55am): Paul Wellens (St Helens); Adrian Gardner (St Helens), Martin Gleeson (Warrington), Keith Senior (Leeds), Lee Smith (Leeds); Leon Pryce (St Helens), Rob Burrow (Leeds); Jamie Peacock (Leeds, capt), James Roby (St Helens), James Graham (St Helens), Gareth Hock (Wigan), G Ellis (Leeds), Kevin Sinfield (Leeds). Substitutes: Danny McGuire (Leeds), Adrian Morley (Warrington), Maurie Fa'asavalu (St Helens), Jon Wilkin (St Helens).
TV coverage: Sky Sports 2 (09.30-12.30).
Opening weekend: Tomorrow: England v PNG (Townsville 09.55); Sun: Scotland v France (Canberra 06.25); Australia v New Zealand (Sydney 08:55). Later stages: Top three teams from Group A joined by winner of play-off between winners of Groups B and C in semi-finals.
Sat 15 Nov: Semi-final: Runner-up Group A v Third-place Group A (Brisbane 08.55); Sun 16 Nov: Semi-final: Winner Group A v play-off winner (Sydney 08.55).
Sat 22 Nov: Final (Brisbane 08.55).
9 World Cups
Australia have won nine of the 12 World Cups since 1954, the now-disbanded Great Britain winning the other three.Reuse content