Rugby league: Difficult Britain debut for Long

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The Independent Online
ONLY PRIDE to play for. It is one of the hoariest and most vacuous cliches in sport, but Great Britain need to invest it with some meaning today if the season is not to end on a profoundly depressing note. Andy Goodway's side goes into the third Test at Watford this evening with a home series against New Zealand already lost - for the first time in 27 years.

The last time they were 2-0 down to the Kiwis, in New Zealand two years ago, they lost the third Test by 20 clear points. Any similar scoreline today will mean that this will go down as Great Britain's worst series performance for a very long time.

The portents are not good, not good at all. On top of the expected absence of Paul Newlove and Adrian Morley, Goodway yesterday ruled out Iestyn Harris and Keiron Cunningham as well.

That, assuming that it is the true situation, will mean a belated first appearance in the series for Sean Long, normally a scrum-half for St Helens, but here pressed into service at stand-off. Long's pace and powers of improvisation were worth a run, possibly off the bench, earlier in the series, but he makes his bow today in difficult circumstances, alongside a player of similar style in Tony Smith.

Long got a taste of Test rugby against Australia last year, but this match marks a demanding debut for Terry Newton, the Leeds hooker who only turned 20 last Saturday and who has still started only 26 Super League games for his club.

Cunningham came into the series with a knee injury and has accumulated others along the way, so it was always a fair bet that he would have to be replaced at some stage.

He was still close to being Britain's most effective player in the defeat at Bolton, but Goodway rates Newton highly, having included him in the original squad ahead of several more experienced and obvious options.

"When we picked 23 players for the series, we considered them all to be Test players and we have faith in their ability," Goodway said.

"It is a serious problem to have four players out injured, but these players who will replace them are of international quality."

Phil Lowe, the England team manager, agreed with the Goodway assertion, saying: "We're confident in the other players in the squad. We picked them in the first place because we thought they were good players. If any of these four don't make it, they will be given a chance to prove themselves."

Newton, considered a back-row forward when Leeds won a tug-of-war with Warrington to sign him three seasons ago, but successfully converted to hooker, said: "This is the chance I've been waiting for and I want to show people what I'm made of. I'll give more than 100 per cent."

The other changes from the second Test team show Terry O'Connor promoted to the starting line-up, with Darren Fleary and Mike Forshaw on the bench and Neil Cowie omitted altogether.

Goodway has kept faith with the left-wing partnership of Keith Senior and Francis Cummins, although it was found wanting defensively last Saturday. The only alternative from within the squad would have been to draft Lee Gilmour into a centre role he has only occasionally filled for Wigan, but he remains among the substitutes.

Alongside all this, the Kiwis' selection process has been simplicity itself. They have brought in Craig Smith as an extra prop on the bench, partly in order to give their captain, Quentin Pongia, the chance of a rest.

Pongia has played every minute of the first two Tests, a remarkable feat for an international prop in the modern game. It might be in Frank Endacott's mind to give him a breather at Vicarage Road; a team of wild horses has been hired to drag him from the pitch.

Ticket sales for today's game in Watford have reached 12,500 and organisers are hoping that they will attract a flurry of late interest in an area not usually associated with the 13-a-side code.


Probable teams for third Lincoln Test at Vicarage Road, Watford

Radlinski Wigan 1 Barnett Sydney City

Robinson Wigan 2 Hoppe Auckland

Connolly Wigan 3 K Iro Auckland

Senior Sheffield 4 Wikki Canberra

Cummins Leeds 5 Halligan Canterbury

Long St Helens 6 R Paul Bradford

T Smith Wigan 7 Jones Auckland

O'Connor Wigan 8 Vagana Auckland

Newton Leeds 9 Eru Auckland

Laughton Sheffield 10 Pongia Auckland (capt)

Joynt St Helens 11 Kearney Auckland

Sculthorpe St Helens 12 McCracken Parramatta

Farrell Wigan (capt) 13 Swann Auckland

Referee: B Harrigan (Aus) Kick-off: 6pm. Sky Sport 1 5.30pm