Here it is. The big one. The teams:
Australia: Billy Slater; Joel Monaghan, Greg Inglis, Israel Folau, Brent Tate; Darren Lockyer (c), Johnathan Thurston; Petero Civoniceva, Cameron Smith, Steve Price; Glenn Stewart, Anthony Laffranchi; Paul Gallen.
Interchange: Brent Kite, Josh Perry, Anthony Tupou, Karmichael Hunt.
England: Paul Wellens; Ade Gardner, Martin Gleeson, Keith Senior, Mark Calderwood; Leon Pryce, Rob Burrow; Jamie Peacock, James Roby, James Graham; Gareth Hock, Gareth Ellis; Kevin Sinfield.
Interchange: Danny McGuire, Adrain Morley, Maurie Fa’asavalu, J Wilkin.
- These two sides are almost exactly the same as the teams they both fielded last weekend. If England play like they did against Papua New Guinea, they will suffer the same (if not worse) fate as the Kiwis.
- New Zealand completely failed to test out the new Kangaroos back row. England need to be punchier down the middle and more dynamic running wide. All the English props had good games last weekend but the back-row seemed to go AWOL.
- Australia will also be looking to spread the ball wide and put up the high bombs. Folau in particular will be looking to have some fun. Keith Senior completely shut down Folau during the World Club Challenge but if he plays like he did last weekend then Folau mught just end up getting his revenge.
- The obvious big change for England is Lee Smith’s enforced absence. It’s a shame because he was clearly coming to form. Mark Calderwood hasn’t played up to a haigh enough level for the last few seasons, although he had been coming good for Wigan towards the end of the season. Thurston and Lockyer will almost certainly target him.
- Again, why no Purdham, Tony Smith?
- The front-row battle could be absolutlely awesome and go a long way to deciding this game. England have the younger set, with Roby and Graham still establishing themselves as international class, and they are backed up by two older heads in Morley and Peacock. All of these players had good games at the weekend. Civoniceva and Price are the two most senior figures in this Kiwi side, and they and Cameron Smith will no doubt be looking to teach the whippersnappers a lesson.
- This might be Leon Pryce’s last chance to establish himself as the main stand-off. Danny McGuire has been playing well whilst Pryce has not.
If England play like they did against the Kumuls and Australia play like they did against the Kiwis, then this game won’t be pretty. However, it strikes me as unlikely that Tony Smith will let them play like that again, even if he hasn’ made the obvious personnel changes. Australia will obviously have confidence in the quality of their backline and it is imperative that England match the intensity both up front and out-wide (where they seemed to be lacking defensively against PNG). If England are able to raise a few levels and handle the Aussie backs then it should be very, very interesting…