Rugby League: Australia's home from home: Dave Hadfield on Mal Meninga's party who are settling in nicely in Leeds before their great date at Wembley

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The Independent Online
AUSTRALIA'S World Cup squad will reap a benefit from conceding home advantage in the World Cup final, their coach, Bob Fulton, said as they settled into their headquarters in Leeds yesterday.

Fulton was not expected to be wildly enthusiastic about forfeiting the choice of venue and playing at Wembley on 24 October. But there are compensations, he believes.

'We made a big concession, but if we had insisted on playing in Australia, we would not have been able to have warm-up matches and they are a big plus for us,' he said.

'We expect to win those matches, although the one at Sheffield will be harder than the other two, and we have been given the preparation we wanted.'

The 22-man squad is captained by Mal Meninga, who, at 32, is well into the veteran stage by Australian standards. Meninga, however, does not see the Wembley final as his last fling against opposition he has consistently terrorised over the last decade.

'I'm aiming to be back here on the Kangaroo tour in 1994,' he said. 'Why stop when you are still enjoying it?'

Fulton said that a centre partner for Meninga, and a full-back and a stand-off to replace the injured absentees, Andrew Ettingshausen and Laurie Daley, were the main areas of doubt for his Wembley line-up.

'They are not problems, because we have players who will do good jobs in those positions,' he said. 'But those are the places up for grabs.'

Fulton said that he expected the current Great Britain side to continue the improvement that he has seen over the past few years. 'If they were to play the Great Britain sides from 1986 and 1988, they would beat them by 30 or 40 points,' he said.

Fulton has left out the bulk of the Brisbane Broncos contingent which, with an unprecedented eight members, forms the heart of his squad, for Australia's first game, at Huddersfield on Friday.

There are good reasons for doing so. Brisbane won their first premiership 10 days ago and have been celebrating in style.

'We had a good time,' admitted Australia's first-choice scrum-half, Allan Langer, like his Broncos team-mates, sporting a savage celebratory hair-cut. 'But it's part of being a professional footballer that we get down to work again now.' A couple of extra days will not come amiss, however.

There will be an Australian in the Huddersfield squad. Rion Pearce, a prop forward from Toowoomba, paid his own way to play trials for the club and did well as a second-half substitute against Swinton on Sunday.

An Australian could help Great Britain's chances in the final by improving Phil Clarke's chances of avoiding a long suspension. Scott Mahon, who is playing for Leigh, was the victim of the high tackle for which Clarke was sent off on Sunday, but will speak in his defence tomorrow because he believes it was the result of an instinctive reaction.

AUSTRALIA (v Huddersfield): Godden; Mackay, Meninga (capt), Renouf, Brasher; Fittler, Stuart; Lazarus, S Walters, Sargent, Cartwright, Sironen, Clyde. Substitutes: K Walters, Gillespie, Lindner, Harragon.