The centre party

Today's games; Fiji v South Africa (Keighley, 2.30pm) New Zealand v Tonga (Warrington, 6pm)
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The Independent Online
AN ENDURING mystery of the game is why New Zealand, with so many exceptional players, achieve so little. The Kiwis, who play Tonga at Warrington today in the opening match of theirWorld Cup campaign, have an abundance of talent in a number of positions, but nowhere more so than at centre, writes Dave Hadfield.

This afternoon, they will have Kevin Iro on the bench and John Timu not even in the 17. Craig Innes, meanwhile, has not even made the 24-man squad they have brought to Britain, despite consistently impressive form for Leeds.

"You tell me who I could leave out," their coach, Frank Endacott, said, and you can see his problem. For a potentially tricky match at Wilderspool, he has opted for the Auckland Warriors and former Castleford player Richie Blackmore, and Ruben Wiki, of Canberra.

Despite a late start to the season as Canberra and Auckland squabbled over his services, Wiki has emerged as a centre of real quality - fast, strong and resourceful. The tip from the Kiwi captain, Matthew Ridge, as a likely star of the tournament, however, is Blackmore, a man as physically imposing as Iro who, in the past, has seemed to share his laid-back approach. "He doesn't know how good he is yet," Ridge said, "but he has got the lot."

Castleford supporters know that, on his day, he is superbly adept at holding the ball up for fast men to come steaming up in support. With players such as Sean Hoppe and Ridge himself feeding off him, Blackmore could be the catalyst that will see New Zealand at long last living up to their potential.

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