The Australia coach, Ricky Stuart, says that his side face their sternest test for over three decades when they start their World Cup campaign tomorrow. The Aussies have won every tournament since 1975 and kick off against New Zealand in Sydney as obvious favourites for this one.
Yet Stuart fears they might have to fight off the challenge of the Kiwis and the English with one hand figuratively tied behind their backs. Such is the controversy in Australia about the so-called grapple tackle and the use of wrestling techniques at the play-the-ball that he is afraid that referees might take too much of the physical confrontation out of the game.
"I just hope it doesn't turn into a physical game of touch," he said, hinting that any confusion over what they can and cannot do in the tackle could make the Kangaroos vulnerable to one of their main rivals.
"They've certainly got the talent here to beat us," he said of the Kiwis and England, who play Australia in Melbourne a week on Sunday. "It's been seen over the years that New Zealand and England have the ability to beat Australia on their day. We can't afford to be off our game."
Australia have four new caps facing the Kiwis, including a new second-row pairing of Anthony Laffranchi and Glenn Stewart, but still look skilful and experienced enough to win.
The same day, Scotland take on France with a side including the three Henderson brothers, one of whom will not be welcomed back in Castleford with open arms any time soon. The New Zealand Warriors and former Bradford hooker, Ian Henderson, was asked by an Australian newspaper to name the worst place he had ever lived. He unhesitatingly chose Castleford, where he once shared a house with his brother, the Cas hooker, Andrew, claiming that it and neighbouring Pontefract were considered "the worst places in England to live".
"It's dull, always grey and everyone just drinks themselves silly. They've got rotten teeth, need a bath... just run around drinking," he told the paper.
The three Torquay-born brothers, who qualify through a Scottish grandmother are part of a squad which has been quietly allowed to forget the original requirement to have six players from their domestic competition in the party. The one who does fall into that category, Edinburgh Eagles' Paddy Coupar, is not in the 17 to meet France in Canberra.
Tonga's case to be able to include Fuifui Moimoi and Taniela Tuiaki in their squad despite the pair electing to play for New Zealand last year will be heard in the New South Wales Supreme Court on Monday morning – the same day that Tonga start their programme of group matches against Ireland in Parramatta.
The Ireland coach, Andy Kelly, has named a 19-man squad, including London Skolars' Wayne Kerr. The squad will be reduced to 17 tomorrow.Weekend fixtures
*Today: England v Papua New Guinea (Townsville, 9.55am).
*Tomorrow: Scotland v France (Canberra, 6.25am); Australia v New Zealand (Sydney, 8.55am).
*Later stages: Top three Group A teams joined by play-off winners from Group B and C victors in semi-finals.Reuse content