Rugby League: Jackson faces real test

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The Independent Online
A CHANGE from each of their last Test teams holds the key when Great Britain meet New Zealand at Palmerston North tomorrow. Britain have Gary Connolly in for Paul Newlove after his disappointing game in the third Test against Australia in Brisbane, but a more significant factor will be how Lee Jackson fits in among five Wigan forwards as Martin Dermott's replacement at hooker.

'We will lose a little in organisation, so Shaun Edwards will have to take more responsibility there,' the Great Britain coach, Malcolm Reilly, said. 'But we gain in other areas, especially Lee's cover defence.'

Edwards, incidentally, was complaining of a hamstring yesterday, although it is not unusual for him to express such doubts before a big match without it affecting his performance.

The New Zealand coach, Howie Tamati, a former Test hooker who played for Wigan in the 1984 Challenge Cup final, sees Jackson improving the British side. 'There will be more thrust,' he said. 'Jackson is quicker and we will need to watch our defence a bit more close to the rucks.'

Jackson, the Hull hooker, whose battle with Wigan's Dermott for the Test job has been one of the running stories of the last two years, admitted that there have been times on this tour when he despaired of his consistently good midweek performances winning him a recall. 'But I had to stick at it,' he said. 'That was my way back.'

Tamati has made a virtue out of necessity over the enforced change in his side. Tawera Nikau, the Castleford loose-forward, has put his international future in jeopardy by withdrawing from the team through family pressures. Tamati is less than impressed, but he said that Nikau's replacement, Brendon Tuuta, could prove to be a bigger asset tomorrow under the circumstances.

'Brendon has slotted in very well,' he said. 'He is probably a better tight-forward than Nikau, which is what we will need this weekend. He is very robust and strong around the ruck area.'

The pack also includes three players who are unknown quantities to Great Britain, the prop Brent Stuart and Gavin Hill and Quentin Pongia in the second row.

The backs are more of a known proposition as five of them have played for English clubs. Reilly expects the Kiwi captain, Gary Freeman, once of Kent Invicta and Castleford and now with Eastern Suburbs in Sydney, to use a short kicking game. He also anticipates, though, that New Zealand will try to give their physically imposing threequarter line some early running opportunities.

GREAT BRITAIN: Steadman (Castleford); Eastwood (Hull), Howell (Sheffield), Connolly (St Helens), Offiah (Wigan); Schofield (Leeds, capt), Edwards; Skerrett (Wigan), Jackson (Hull), Platt, Betts, McGinty, Clarke (Wigan). Substitutes: Lydon (Wigan), Harrison (Halifax), Devereux, Hulme (Widnes).

NEW ZEALAND: M Ridge; S Hoppe, K Iro, A Kemp, R Blackmore; D Clark, G Freeman (capt); B Stuart, D Mann, B Todd, G Hill, Q Pongia, B Tuuta. Subs. D Halligan, T Ropati, M Kuiti, M Woods.

Referee: W Harragon (Australia).