Rugby League: Halifax test tourists' resolve: Injury toll mounts for Kangaroos

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The Independent Online
Halifax. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .12 Australia. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .26 INJURY problems are mounting for Australia in the week of the first John Smith's Test after a determined display by Halifax yesterday. For an hour, a well-organised Halifax played as well against the Kangaroos as could be expected of a club side.

Although Australia were never in danger of losing after they scored two tries within three minutes midway through the second half, they will be concerned about the health of several key players as they prepare for the encounter at Wembley. The tourists started without Michael Hancock, who injured a shoulder in training and will be out for at least three weeks, and their first-choice hooker, Steve Walters, out with a back injury.

During the course of a rugged contest, they also lost two other automatic Test choices, Bradley Clyde, with bruised ribs, and Brett Mullins, with a groin strain. Mullins, the full- back, is the most serious doubt, but he, like Walters and Clyde, expects to be fit to face Great Britain on Saturday.

The absence of his hooker at least gave Bob Fulton, the Australian coach, the chance to give both Alan Langer and Ricky Stuart a full 80 minutes, alternating them between scrum-half and hooker. The balance swung a little further in Langer's favour with the Kangaroos profiting rather more as a result of his promptings, but Fulton will not name his Wembley side until tomorrow or Wednesday.

Despite their strong start, Halifax went behind in the fourth minute, Mark Preston dropping Stuart's high kick and Mal Meninga picking up to link with Laurie Daley and sending Wendell Sailor, now a virtual certainty for the Test, at the corner.

Tim Brasher landed the conversion, but Halifax deserved to draw level when Michael Hagan's perfectly measured kick to the corner opened up his countrymen's defence for John Bentley to touch down and John Schuster to add the goal.

Halifax defended magnificently until eight minutes before half-time, when a simple ball from Langer sent the outstanding Clyde striding over.

Mullins and Brad Fittler both spent time in the sin bin, but while the latter was absent his team-mates seized the initiative. Straight from a scrum, Mullins and Brasher penetrated the Halifax defence, which was caught short of the necessary manpower to stop the substitute, Greg Florimo.

Immediately from the kick-off Andrew Ettingshausen's try put the game beyond any doubt.

An irresistible long-range attack by Daley and Mal Meninga set up Sailor for his second eight minutes from time, but Halifax underlined their spirit with a try from Richard Smith.

'Everyone played superbly for us,' said Steve Simms, Halifax's Australian coach. 'We showed a lot of character to come back from six points down, but we were up against superb athletes who can score from anywhere on the pitch.'

Halifax: Hampson; Bentley, Schuster, Hallas, Preston; Hagan Parker; Harrison, Southernwood Fieldhouse, Moriarty Perrett, Divorty. Replacements: Smith for Preston (73min), Greenwood for Hagan (65min), Lawless for Southernwood (73min), Harland for Moriarty (54min).

AUSTRALIA: Mullins (Canberra) Brasher (Balmain), Ettingshausen (Cronulla), Meninga (Canberra), Sailor (Brisbane), Daley (Canberra), Stuart (Canberra), Lazarus (Brisbane) Langer (Brisbane), Harragon (Newcastle) , Sironen (Balmain), Clyde Fittler (Penrith). Replacements: K Walters (Brisbane) for Mullins, 71; Roberts (Manly) for Harragon, h-t; Pay (Canterbury) for Lazarus, h-t; Florimo (North) for Clyde, 52.

Referee: J Holdsworth (Kippax).

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