Rugby League: Brisbane backs on parade

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The Independent Online
(First Edition)

THERE may be no British players in the Winfield Cup Grand Final tomorrow, but there are solid reasons for British interest in the match to be keener than ever.

The culmination of the Australian season at the Sydney Football Stadium holds the key to the shape of the 22-man squad for the World Cup final at Wembley which will be announced soon afterwards.

Everything points not only to a first Premiership for the Brisbane Broncos but also to an unprecedented domination of the national team by that club.

Brisbane's great strength is in the fluency of their backs. That makes them consistently exciting to watch and cuts right across the glib assertion that Australian rugby league has become boring and stereotyped.

From that back division, their scrum-half and inspiration, Allan Langer, and their two wingers, Michael Hancock and Willie Carne, can be regarded as certainties for Wembley.

With Canberra's Laurie Daley out injured, Kevin Walters becomes the strongest candidate at stand-off, and the centre, Chris Johns, is a seasoned international. The two uncapped backs, Julian O'Neill and Steve Renouf, have both been in excellent form and good performances tomorrow could also put them on the plane.

Add two established Test forwards, Glen Lazarus and Kerrod Walters, to the mix and it is clear why the Broncos are so strongly fancied to gallop en masse from Sydney to Wembley.

St George have fewer obvious stars, but Brian Smith - just as he did with Hull - has welded them into a formidable unit, capable of defending doggedly and seizing their chances. They have World Cup candidates in Mick Potter, who has long been one of the best full-backs in Australia but is still uncapped, the versatile but injury-prone Brad Mackay and the former Wallaby, Scott Gourley.

Their British connections are more pronounced than Brisbane's, with half-backs Peter Coyne and Ivan Henjak due to join Castleford and Hull respectively next week. There is also Jeff Hardy, who served Sheffield and Castleford with distinction and has surprised even himself by resurrecting his Australian career. But most of all there is Smith, as shrewd and resilient a coach as any in the world, whose stock has risen still further this season.

He is the Australian that major British clubs, notably Wigan, must instinctively look to when they next need a coach. But St George, regardless of tomorrow's result, are naturally keen to retain him.

Lyon's wait, page 44