Rugby League: Halligan will kick-start Kiwi quest

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The Independent Online
IF NEW ZEALAND are at all haunted by events the last time they played at Huddersfield, they could have no more reassuring exorcist than Daryl Halligan.

The Kiwis return today, for the first match in the Lincoln Test series, to the ground where they came within inches of their proudest achievement three years ago.

Matthew Ridge, their captain and ace goal-kicker that day, missed a conversion and a relatively simple drop goal that would have given them victory over Australia in the semi-final of the 1995 World Cup.

Ridge is gone now, but Frank Endacott, the Kiwi coach, says that, in Halligan, who has come out of international retirement at 32, he has the best marksman in the world. If this Test is as tight as many between these two countries, then his kicking could well be crucial.

The loss of Ridge has also put Richard Barnett into a role at full-back where his counter-attacking abilities can be used to best effect, although Great Britain will fancy Jason Robinson's chances of catching Halligan on the turn.

As this Test is being played under the British substitution rule, allowing only six changes, there was a theory that Endacott might start without his massive prop, Joe Vagana, who forms an all-Auckland front-row with Syd Eru and the Kiwi captain, Quentin Pongia.

But Endacott has a refreshingly straightforward approach to team selection. "I want my best players on the field," he says.

That is the way Andy Goodway should look at it as well, which would mean starting with Iestyn Harris at stand-off and leaving Kris Radlinski and Andy Farrell in their natural positions at full-back and loose forward. Anything else would be complicating matters for the sake of it.

Goodway has played his cards not so much close to his chest as somewhere behind his rib-cage. That is ingrained habit with him, but all subterfuge becomes irrelevant when a team has to take the field.

Many of this team have something to prove, having been part of the squad that lost the series 3-0 in New Zealand two years ago.

"That still rankles with us, but the first two Tests could easily have gone the other way," said Farrell.

Nobody felt more responsible for the first of those matches slipping away than Adrian Morley. Great Britain were comfortably ahead when his inexperience and indiscipline saw him sent to the sin-bin, from where he watched a short-handed defence concede 13 points in the last eight minutes.

His chances of making up for that today depend on recovering from an ankle injury, but Endacott has already identified him as one of the principal dangers.

"He's still a bit green, but what a player he is," says the admiring Kiwi coach.

Goodway was upbeat yesterday about his chances of playing. "We believe he's going to play," he said. "He got a knock on his ankle in the Super League Grand Final, but we have nursed him through it. He is the reason, though, why we will not name the team until five o'clock on Saturday."

If Morley misses out, Chris Joynt is his likely replacement, with Simon Haughton coming onto the bench.

The Academy international between Great Britain and France, scheduled as the curtain-raiser for the Test, has been transfered to the South Leeds Stadium (2 pm) because of fears for the McAlpine's playing surface.

Carl Briscoe will play the last match of a 17-year professional career when the Lancashire Lynx face Villeneuve in the final of the Treize Tournoi in Toulouse tomorrow.

GREAT BRITAIN (possible): Kris Radlinski (Wigan); Jason Robinson (Wigan), Gary Connolly (Wigan), Paul Newlove (St Helens), Keith Senior (Sheffield); Iestyn Harris (Leeds), Tony Smith (Wigan); Neil Cowie (Wigan), Keiron Cunningham (St Helens), Darren Fleary (Leeds), Adrian Morley (Leeds), Paul Sculthorpe (St Helens), Andy Farrell (Wigan, capt). Substitutes: Sean Long (St Helens), Dale Laughton (Sheffield), Lee Gilmour (Wigan), Chris Joynt (St Helens).

NEW ZEALAND: Richard Barnett (Sydney City); Sean Hoppe (Auckland), Kevin Iro (Auckland), Ruben Wiki (Canberra), Daryl Halligan (Canterbury); Robbie Paul (Bradford), Stacey Jones (Auckland); Joe Vagana (Auckland), Syd Eru (Auckland), Quentin Pongia (Auckland, capt), Jarrod McCracken (Parramatta), Stephen Kearney (Auckland), Logan Swann (Auckland). Substitutes: Henry Paul (Wigan), Tony Iro (Adelaide), Tony Puletua (Penrith), Nathan Cayless (Parramatta).

Referee: Bill Harrigan (Australia).