Larder picks enthusiasm over Offiah

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Rugby League

Great Britain will tour Papua New Guinea, Fiji and New Zealand this autumn without Martin Offiah, who has been left out because of his lack of enthusiasm for the enterprise. Offiah, who signed for both the London Broncos and Bedford Rugby Union club two weeks ago, will now be free to pursue his resumed career in union, rather than joining the 32-man party on tour.

"Although he still has the ability he has not got the enthusiasm for a six-week tour," the Great Britain coach, Phil Larder, said. "It's very important that everyone selected should be committed and enthusiastic."

Offiah himself said: "I toured in 1988, 1990 and 1992 and me not going this time gives a younger lad a chance he might not have otherwise got. I also have aspirations elsewhere, and the fact that there is no Australian leg at the end of the tour played a part. Phil understood and seemed happy with my explanation. But I explained to him I didn't want to retire internationally. I've got three years with the Broncos and feel I've still got an international future in rugby league."

One player who is both committed and enthusiastic is Offiah's London Broncos team- mate, Tulsen Tollett, who has been picked despite spending all but the last few months of his career in Australia.

"He was born in England, he has English parents and English grandparents," Larder said. "He is as English as I am."

Tollett, in his unmistakably Sydney accent, said that playing for the land of his birth - 23 years ago in Hastings - had been his ambition when he came to England. His form during the Broncos' surge towards a top four place in Super League justifies his selection and the other surprise choice, Sheffield's Keith Senior, has also earned his place.

The players who can consider themselves unlucky to be left at home are the Bradford centre, Matt Calland, whose form Larder feels has tailed off in the second half of the season, the veteran prop Karl Harrison, and two gifted hookers, Paul Rowley of Halifax and Sheffield's John Lawless.

Instead, Larder has called up Lee Jackson, currently playing for the Newcastle Knights in Australia. Another voluntary exile, Auckland Warriors' Denis Betts, is named as vice-captain to a player for whom he was a guiding influence at Wigan, Andy Farrell. Britain's youngest tour captain leads a party that includes eight uncapped players. It also contains two players who are unlikely to play again this season, Neil Harmon, who is out of contract at Leeds, and Iestyn Harris, who has been told to stay away by Warrington.

The highlight of the itinerary is a programme of six matches, including three Tests, in New Zealand. There remains the possibility of tagging on a couple of Tests in Australia, in the unlikely event that Super League there wins its appeal before the end of this month.

GREAT BRITAIN TOUR SQUAD (Papua New Guinea, Fiji and New Zealand, 20 September): Backs: J Bentley (Halifax), G Connolly (Wigan), S Edwards (Wigan), B Goulding (St Helens), I Harris (Warrington), J Hayes (St Helens), P Newlove (St Helens), S Prescott (St Helens), K Radlinski (Wigan), J Robinson (Wigan), K Senior (Sheffield), T Smith (Castleford), S Spruce (Bradford), A Sullivan (St Helens), T Tollett (London). Forwards: D Betts (Auckland Warriors), D Bradbury (Oldham), P Broadbent (Sheffield), M Cassidy (Wigan), K Cunningham (St Helens), B Dwyer (Bradford), A Farrell (Wigan, capt), N Harmon (Leeds), L Jackson (Newcastle Knights), C Joynt (St Helens), B McDermott (Bradford), S McNamara (Bradford), A Morley (Leeds), S Molloy (Featherstone), T O'Connor (Wigan), R Phillips (Workington), P Sculthorpe (Warrington). Standby: P Atcheson (Oldham), S Blakeley (Salford), J Critchley (Keighley), S Haughton (Wigan), A Hunte (St Helens), J Lowes (Bradford), N McAvoy (Salford), S McCurrie (Widnes), B McDermott (Leeds), C Murdock (Wigan), D Powell (Keighley), J Roper (Warrington), R Sheridan (Sheffield).

Tour itinerary, Digest, Page 4