The third British Gas Test today has the potential to turn completely around what has been, in many ways, a painful season. If Great Britain can finish just one drop goal ahead of Australia when the final hooter goes in Leeds, few will remember 1997 for the debacle of the World Club Championship or for the atrocious mismanagement of the game and its Super League windfall at both club and national level.
All right, this is not a full Australian team. They cannot, in all conscience, be called the Kangaroos and these are not the Ashes. But, in a game hungry for good news, they will do very nicely to be going on with.
The mood in the British camp this past week has been quietly impressive. There is not that feeling that they have achieved what they are going to achieve - that has been there before the deciding Test in previous series. They have maintained a businesslike focus.
The coach, Andy Goodway, has resisted the temptation to fiddle around with his side by promoting Simon Haughton to the starting line-up and is probably right to have done so. Haughton is likely to be more effective from the bench at this level, while the player he was likely to replace, Brian McDermott, is one who still has something to prove in this series. With his immediate future settled by signing a new contract at Bradford, McDermott can now concentrate on doing some damage to the Australian pack.
That is part of the key question in this deciding Test: whether the British forwards can recapture the inspiration of their collective effort at Old Trafford. "We've done it once and we can do it again," is the way McDermott's fellow prop, Paul Broadbent, puts it. Unfortunately, recent history suggests that Britain do it when everyone is certain they can't, rather than when they have proved they can. Goodway's emphasis this week has been on repeating the magnificent tackling of last Saturday. "The big problem with British teams is that they have not been renowned for their defence," Goodway said. "The players have to be committed and prepared to put their bodies on the line for 80 minutes."
Any lapse will almost inevitably be punished, but if Britain can put Australia under the same sort of pressure they exerted at Old Trafford they can again be rewarded with mistakes and with penalties.
"We don't feel we've been niggling at all," said Andy Farrell, who has grown in stature as a leader during this series. "We've just gone out there and played it hard and enthusiastic. Their coach will have had a word with one or two people about the penalties because that's what cost them the match."
One offender, Matt Adamson, has been relegated to the bench for this match, but the main one, Gorden Tallis, is still there; the threat he poses to Britain with his thunderous running outweighs his lack of discipline.
Tallis will be provoked today not just by the British team but also by British supporters who have taken him to their hearts as a man they love to hate.
That support, and the atmosphere it generated, was a factor in Britain's win in Manchester. The atmosphere has built steadily during the series, not because the crowds have got bigger - each of the three matches will attract near enough 40,000 - but because the grounds have got smaller. Clever, or what? Elland Road will be full this afternoon and, although Goodway says that both teams will be motivated by that, Great Britain should surely be the main beneficiaries.
Whether that will be enough against an Australian side who know they must win is another matter entirely, but history is beckoning. Beckoning in a slightly ambiguous way, it's true, and there will always be an asterisk alongside this series in the record books when and if international rugby league recovers its sanity. Should Farrell and his men do the job today, though, few people here will examine the fine print too closely.
Great Britain: Atcheson (St Helens); Robinson (Wigan), Radlinksi (Wigan), Newlove (St Helens), Hunte (St Helens); Farrell (Wigan, capt), Goulding (St Helens); McDermott (Bradford), Lowes (Bradford), Broadbent (Sheffield), Joynt (St Helens), Morley (Leeds), Sculthorpe (Warrington). Substitutes: Long (St Helens), Haughton (Wigan), McNamara (Bradford), Forshaw (Bradford).
Australia: Lockyer (Brisbane); Nagas (Canberra), Girdler (Penrith), Ettingshausen (Cronulla), Sailor (Brisbane); Daley (Canberra, capt), Gower (Penrith); Stevens (Cronulla), Walters (North Queensland), Thorn (Brisbane), Tallis (Brisbane), Clyde (Canberra), Smith (Brisbane). Substitutes: Adamson (Penrith), Kearns (Perth), Kimmorley (Hunter), Richardson (Cronulla).
Referee: P Houston (New Zealand).Reuse content