Rugby League: NZ pair free to play in first Test

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The Independent Online
NEW ZEALAND are breathing a sigh of relief after two key forwards escaped suspensions that would have ruled them out of the first Test at Wembley on 16 October.

Tawera Nikau, their obvious choice at loose forward for the series against Great Britain, was found not guilty last night of the high tackle for which he was sent off playing for Castleford against Leigh last Sunday.

The second-row forward, Quentin Pongia, will also be free to play in the first Test. He was banned for one game at a meeting of the international disciplinary committee yesterday after admitting a reckless tackle in Wednesday night's game at Bradford.

The home team's forward, Paul Medley, who had been replaced 14 minutes earlier but came off the bench to join the ensuing brawl, has been suspended for two matches and fined pounds 500, half of it suspended for 12 months.

Robert Piva replaces Pongia in the New Zealand team to play Wigan on Sunday. The side is otherwise the same as the one which beat Wales in the opening game of the tour last Sunday.

Wigan and their chairman, Jack Robinson, have emerged from the row over their players missing an international training camp with a slap on the wrist. Robinson has been given a 'final warning' by the League's board of directors over remarks suggesting that the Great Britain coach, Malcolm Reilly, faced a conflict of interest when dealing with Wigan players, because he also coaches a rival First Division side, Halifax.

Robinson, who has been reprimanded twice before, apologised unreservedly and said he had not intended to question the Great Britain coach's integrity. But club officials who have been fined heavily for first offences may feel he has got off lightly by comparison.

More importantly, the issue that caused the argument has not been addressed at all. The absence of four Wigan players from the Under-21 camp at Lilleshall in August was the basis of the disagreement between Reilly and the club, but it has been swept under the carpet.

It has not been established whether Wigan conspired to keep the players away, nor, if they did, how serious an offence against the wider interests of the game that would have been. These are questions far more important to the sport.

Salford will have their Welsh internationals, Phil Ford and David Young, back in their side for tonight's visit to Halifax, the First Division's only unbeaten club.