Rugby League: Reilly relies on half-back blend

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EVEN with home advantage and a partisan crowd of more than 70,000 behind them at Wembley this afternoon, Great Britain face an uphill struggle to take the World Cup from Australia.

In each of their last three series against Australia, Great Britain have shown that they are capable of winning single matches. They won at Wembley two years ago and they did the unthinkable by actually trouncing the old enemy in Melbourne earlier this year. But there are too many unanswered questions suggested by the team they will field this afternoon to allow them to be tipped with any confidence.

There is not a great deal wrong with Malcolm Reilly's team selection, but it is asking a lot of two half-backs - Shaun Edwards and Deryck Fox - who have hardly played together suddenly to strike up a productive understanding. Each is an admirable technician in his own way, but winning sides in these matches need a winning blend in the halves.

If there is a real dearth of talent in one area of the British game, it must be at centre. Daryl Powell's injury has thus made it necessary to move Garry Schofield from the stand-off role he has occupied for several seasons to partner Gary Connolly.

Schofield's credentials as captain are not in doubt and Reilly has done the right thing by leaving him in that job despite the return of Ellery Hanley. Asking him to slip into the different disciplines and thought patterns of a centre again is a bigger risk.

The pack has a generally reassuring look. Kevin Ward and Andy Platt are not only the best props in Britain, they should also complement each other perfectly. Martin Dermott, despite the rival claims of other hookers, gives the best service from acting half and that should always be the deciding factor.

The second row combination of Denis Betts and Phil Clarke is one of the obvious strengths of the side; model citizens and exceptional athletes the pair of them. Clarke has no qualms about moving from the loose forward position he filled with such distinction on tour, and it is not likely to affect either his style of play or his effectiveness.

Clarke has been moved to accommodate Hanley and we will not know until 4.15 this afternoon whether the decision to recall him is a masterstroke or a sentimental blunder. He has been chosen not on the basis of what he has done this season, but what he might do when he puts on a Great Britain shirt once more and probably for the last time.

It would be a strange coach who would not rather be going into the match armed with a few more certainties. That is where Australia have the advantages. Where Britain hope that Edwards and Fox will gel, Australia have Allan Langer and Brad Fittler, who will. While we fret over Hanley's chances of turning back the clock, they have Bradley Clyde.

The last thing Britain need under these circumstances is to be worrying about outside factors. It is clear, however, that previous experience of the New Zealand referee, Dennis Hale, is colouring some players' approach, with Edwards particularly outspoken about his failings in the past.

The Australian coach, Bob Fulton, is accusing Edwards of trying to influence Mr Hale - which some will think is a bit rich coming from a past master of that particular art - but the British camp is playing the issue down.

'I won't be speaking to Shaun about it,' the manager, Maurice Lindsay, said. 'Our past experiences with the referee are behind us and this is far too important a match to be going into with any distractions.'

It will take a single-minded determination and the favourable resolution of a series of imponderables if Britain are to earn the right to call themselves world champions.

Betts' burden, page 44

Gt. Britain v Australia

(at Wembley Stadium)

----------------------------------------------------------------- Lydon. . . . . . . . . .Wigan 1 Brasher. . . . .Balmain Hunte. . . . . . . .St Helens 2 Carne. . . . . .Brisbane Connolly. . . . . . St Helens 3 Renouf. . . . . Brisbane Schofield. . . . .Leeds, capt 4 Meninga. . . . .Canberra, capt Offiah. . . . . . . . . Wigan 5 Hancock. . . . .Brisbane Edwards. . . . . . . . .Wigan 6 Fittler. . . . .Penrither Fox. . . . .Bradford Northern 7 Langer. . . . . Brisbane Ward. . . . . . . . St Helens 8 Lazarus. . . . .Brisbane Dermott. . . . . . . . .Wigan 9 S Walters. . . .Canberra Platt. . . . . . . . . .Wigan 10 Sargent. . . . .Newcastle Betts. . . . . . . . . .Wigan 11 Sironen. . . . .Balmain Clarke. . . . . . . . . Wigan 12 Lindner. . . . .Wests Hanley. . . . . . . . . Leeds 13 Clyde. . . . . .Canberra -----------------------------------------------------------------

Replacements: 14 Devereux (Widnes), 15 Skerrett (Wigan), 16 Tait (Leeds), 17 Eyres (Widnes).

Replacements: 14 Johns (Brisbane), 15 Cartwright (Penrith), 16 Kevin Walters (Brisbane), 17 Gillespie (Wests).

Referee: D Hale (New Zealand)Kick-off: 2.45pm.