Rugby League: Tamati depends on home produce for Kiwis' fruition

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The Independent Online
HOWIE TAMATI returns to Central Park after 10 years tomorrow, looking for confirmation that the nucleus of his team for the first Test will be up to the job.

The New Zealand coach spent the 1983-84 season hooking for Wigan. A good display there now will strengthen his belief that he does not need to call upon many of the players who have followed that lead by signing for British clubs and thus becoming unavailable for the bread and butter games on the tour.

The indications in the opening match in Swansea were that the touring party contains the basis of a highly capable side. Virtually the same line-up appears again tomorrow, demonstrating that it is the starting point from which the side for next Saturday's team for the first Test will be selected.

The players most under threat are the centres - where David Watson and perhaps another English-based player can expect a call - and front row, where Se'e Solomona of Oldham and Gavin Hill, who starts a game for Featherstone for the first time at Sheffield tomorrow, are recent internationals who may force their way into the squad.

Tea Ropati, who would have been an inviting option at stand-off, is out of St Helens' match against Wakefield with a calf strain and out of contention for the Test side. One back-rower will make way for Tawera Nikau, but Tamati's instincts argue against a clear-out.

New Zealand will face six likely members of the Great Britain side that will be named on Monday. The one player remaining from Tamati's time at Wigan, Shaun Edwards, remains strong favourite to play scrum-half but will feel himself under a fraction more pressure after Deryck Fox's match-winning display against the Kiwis at Bradford on Wednesday night.

Bradford have a crucial examination of their title credentials when they meet Warrington tomorrow in the first authentic top-of-the-table meeting of the season. The contribution of two Great Britain squad members who face each other in the centres could be pivotal; Paul Newlove should be fit after missing Bradford's match against the Kiwis with a groin strain, while Jonathan Davies is becoming increasingly influential for Warrington.

The new Rochdale player-coach, Steve Gibson, names himself at full-back against Bramley, now that a deal has been finalised to take him and Frank Cassidy to Hornets with Bob Marsden joining Salford. Bramley will be without their forward, Dean Hall, who has received the heaviest suspension of the season so far - 10 matches for an elbow to a Dewsbury opponent's head last Sunday.