Two Test captains have their different reasons for needing to lead in the third Test at Wigan tonight. The series might already be decided in Great Britain's favour, but for Jamie Peacock and Roy Asotasi there is still unfinished business.
Peacock was mentioned after the second Test as one of the hard-worked senior players who might be due for a rest. That provoked him into his most memorable sound-bite since becoming Great Britain captain when he said that he wanted to collect the trophy in the sweat and muck of battle, rather than a nice clean suit. "I've been through the dark days, like losing 49-6 to New Zealand in a World Cup semi-final," he said, shuddering at the memory. "Now I want to enjoy the good times."
Other established players who might have been due for a breather, like Paul Wellens, Keith Senior and Gareth Ellis, have argued successfully to their coach, Tony Smith, that they want to carry on. The exceptions are Leon Pryce and Gareth Raynor, both excellent in this series, who get a break whether they want one or not. Both can rest easy in the knowledge that they have put down markers for next year's World Cup, as has the 18-year-old front-row prodigy, Sam Burgess.
Their absence creates opportunities in the starting line-up for Danny McGuire – who plays despite pain from a recent hand injury – and David Hodgson, as well as a first cap from the substitutes' bench for one of the admirable grafters of the game, Jamie Jones-Buchanan.
Unlike some of their near-contemporaries, they are coming into a Test side which is full of confidence. By contrast, the Kiwis are in disarray – a source of embarrassment to Asotasi, who is still looking for his first victory as captain.
Although his own performances have been well up to standard, the South Sydney prop has not lifted the players around him to similar levels. He summoned a team meeting after the 44-0 defeat at Hull last week and delivered a few home truths to his team-mates. "Things that needed to be said," was his description.
"Great Britain had far more venom in them than we did and that's what showed on the scoreboard," he said. "We're playing for pride now and we're desperate for it not to be a whitewash."
Not surprisingly after a rudderless display at Hull, the beleagured New Zealand coach, Gary Kemble, has gone for a new pair of half-backs in Ben Roberts and Jeremy Smith, the latter of whom is the second player of that name in the side. He, along with Jeff Lima, was dropped after the thrashing by Australia that opened Kemble's reign and both get a chance to redeem themselves this evening.
Shontayne Hape's wrist injury means that the St George-Illawarra utility back, Chase Stanley, makes his debut on the wing at the age of 18, while Epi Lauaki is fit to return on the bench. The reshuffle may or may not help. What the Kiwis need, if they are to avoid another hammering, is a complete change in attitude. They can surely be expected to be more aggressive today, if nothing else.
Kemble is doomed already and some of his players, unless they can raise their game at the JJB Stadium, are heading in the same direction.
* Salford have completed their squad for next season by signing James Jiminez, Damien Reid and Paul White.
Great Britain: Wellens (St Helens); Hodgson (Huddersfield), Gleeson (Warrington), Senior (Leeds), Gardner (St Helens); McGuire (Leeds), Burrow (Leeds); Morley (Warrington), Clarke (Warrington), Peacock (Leeds, capt), Ellis (Leeds), O'Loughlin (Wigan), Wilkin (St Helens). Substitutes: Graham (St Helens), Roby (St Helens), Jones-Buchanan (Leeds), Yeaman (Hull).
New Zealand: Perrett (Sydney City); Stanley (St George-Illawarra), Toopi (Leeds), Whatuira (Wests Tigers), Tuiaki (Wests Tigers); Roberts (Bulldogs), Smith (Parramatta); Rapira (NZ Warriors), Halatau (Wests Tigers), Asotasi (South Sydney, capt), Anderson (NZ Warriors), Smith (Melbourne), Mannering (NZ Warriors). Substitutes: Hohaia (NZ Warriors), Moimoi (Parramatta), Lauaki (NZ Warriors), Lima (Melbourne).
Referee: T Archer (Australia).Reuse content