Offiah fitness blow for England

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The Independent Online
England's Gary Connolly is likely to miss the whole of the Centenary World Cup and Martin Offiah is rated doubtful for the opening match against Australia at Wembley on Saturday.

Connolly has been told to rest for a month after a bout of pneumonia, so any hope of him being fit in time for the semi-finals on 20 and 21 October seems forlorn. The England coach, Phil Larder, will decide today whether to replace Connolly in his 25-man squad, or wait another week to see whether he has a chance of recovering.

Under the tournament rules, Connolly could be replaced on medical grounds midway through the competition. Whether that replacement comes now or later, the favourites for a late call-up are Richard Gay of Hull or Salford's veteran, Steve Hampson, who were watched in opposition to each other by the England coaching co-ordinator, John Kear, on Sunday.

Offiah, another of the potential match-winners upon whom England were relying, was unable to train yesterday with leg and ankle injuries. A decision on his fitness for Wembley will be made tomorrow, but Paul Newlove, who also sat out yesterday's session, is expected to be fit.

The New Zealand coach, Frank Endacott, has hinted strongly that he intends to use the Leeds stand-off, Tony Kemp, at loose forward in the tournament. "He is being considered for the job," Endacott said. "He could make a ball-playing back-rower, with good vision and a kicking game."

Another of New Zealand's British-based players, Henry Paul, might have to settle for a more peripheral role. Endacott, much criticised for his reluctant use of the Wigan player in the three-nil series defeat by Australia this year, indicated that he might be frustrated again.

"Henry is a very exciting player, but he is still very green. He can win a game for you, but he can lose it for you as well," he said. "His value to us is as a utility player rather than a specialist at the moment."

Endacott will name his side for Sunday's first match against Tonga tomorrow. His strategy will be to name his strongest line-up for every match, rather than mixing and matching as some coaches intend. "It could mean that some players will not get a game, but that is the way it has to be," he said.

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