Rugby League: Australians use Cumbria as warm-up act: Tourists rank matches against Wigan and Wales as Test-class on tough British tour. Dave Hadfield reports

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The Independent Online
AUSTRALIA begin their British tour at Workington tomorrow with a match designed to get the rust out of their collective engine.

A match which their coach, Bob Fulton, requested as an addition to their schedule gives him the chance to get men who have not played for some time straight into the action.

Players who figured in last Sunday's Grand Final are given a rest and others who were prominent in the play- off series are used sparingly, which means that Paul Sironen, the giant Balmain forward, captains an Australian side for the first time.

The omission of the two specialist scrum-halves, Ricky Stuart and Allan Langer, gives Kevin Walters a run-out in a position he has rarely occupied at club level.

Otherwise the side looks designed to give Cumbria a torrid time.

Sironen, Walters, Tim Brasher, Rod Wishart, Ian Roberts, Glenn Lazarus and Brad Fittler have all played Tests, with Roberts getting his chance to stake an early claim for a place against the country of his birth.

Roberts was born in London and returned to England to play a season with Wigan in the mid-80s. He had the option of playing Tests for Britain but decided instead to pursue a career in the country where he was brought up.

'I don't really regard this as coming home any more,' the Manly prop said. 'But it would be a great thrill to play against Great Britain, because that's the only country I haven't played against.'

Australia trained in Leeds for the first time yesterday. 'We had players from eight different clubs out there, but it went like clockwork,' Fulton said.

'Most of the players come from clubs where they play a similar type of game to the one I have Manly playing, so getting them to fit in with each other is not a problem.'

That style will revolve around great pace and movement from the play-the-ball and it would be unfair to expect a Cumbria side which is basically a collection of good local players to compete with it for very long tomorrow.

The Cumbrian team, jointly coached by an Australian, Workington's Peter Walsh, has been deprived of a good slice of its experience by injuries to the former Great Britain loose forward, Les Holliday, and the Warrington prop, Gary Chambers, as well as the decision to use only Cumbria- born players, which rules out the Leeds full-back, Alan Tait.

Both Fulton and his tour captain, Mal Meninga, are convinced that British rugby league has improved at both club and international level since they were last here for the World Cup final in 1992.

'In effect we will have five Tests, with the Wigan and Welsh games falling into that category, and probably eight or nine really tough matches altogether,' Fulton said.

Tomorrow at Derwent Park is not, with all due respect to a Cumbria side which is capable of lifting itself above the sum of its parts for at least some of the game, likely to be one of them.

Australia have named a Test-strength back division for their game at Leeds on Wednesday, but their problems at prop, with Paul Harragon still suspended, are underlined by the selection of Dean Pay, the Canterbury second rower, in the front row.

The Sydney referee, Graham Annesley, is to take charge of the first and second Tests at Wigan and Old Trafford. His fellow countryman, Bill Harrigan, will referee the third at Elland Road and Australia's only Test in France.

CUMBRIA: Routledge (Whitehaven); Seeds (Whitehaven), Pape (Carlisle), Rudd (Warrington), Roper (Warrington); Birkett (Salford), Marwood (Workington); Neill (St Helens), McCurrie (Widnes), Tees (Warrington), Elliott (Warrington), Walker (Hull), Burns (Workington). Substitutes from: Armstrong (Workington), Oglanby (Workington), Knox (Carlisle), Smith (Workington), Anderson (Whitehaven), Holgate (Workington).

AUSTRALIA: Brasher (Balmain); Sailor (Brisbane), McGregor (Illawarra), Hill (Manly), Wishart (Illawarra); Florimo, K Walters (Brisbane); Roberts (Manly), Serdaris (Wests), Lazarus (Brisbane), Sironen (Balmain), Menzies (Manly), Fittler (Penrith). Substitutes: Fairleigh (Norths), Smith (Canterbury), Langer (Brisbane), Hancock (Brisbane).

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