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David Waite has named a side with the potential of defeating the Australians in the inaugural Think! Don?t Drink Drive Test Match at Wigan?s JJB Stadium which will be played in front of a sell out crowd. It has been a long time since the Lions have been able to name a side which actually looks competitive in all its positions, and whilst there are problems with it, and areas which Australia has key advantages in, this side has the potential to match the Kangaroos for 80 minutes.
Waite has played it smart in his backline for the first time in a long time, naming five backs who will actually provide the defence needed to restrict Australia scoring points. The centres are packed with two very experienced players in the shapes of Keith Senior and Gary Connolly. Connolly, whilst appearing to retire from international Rugby League three times in the past three seasons is back in the Lions jersey again, however it is not all negative. Connolly has been one of the best defensive backs in the Super League era?s and as he showed against New Zealand last year in fullback, he is prepared to do his all for his country.
Senior, whilst not as defence oriented as Connolly has the speed to trouble the Australians, and was considered by the Kangaroo team of 2001 the only real world class back in the Lions side. Radlinski?s return to the fullback position is a huge boost for the Lions, and adds a competent player to defuse the bombs and make yards in the kick return from the Australians. The wingers are also very competent players, with Irish born, Brian Carney, having a brilliant season for Wigan, and Richard Horne on the other wing.
Horne is a surprise selection for the Lions on the wing, with the players usually filling one of the halves position, however as a lot of fans will tell you, his true strong spot is in the fullback position, so moving to the wing should not be too difficult for the Hull FC player.
Sculthorpe and Long will make up the halves combination, with Waite determined to play Scully out of position again. Now don?t get me wrong, Sculthorpe is a world class player and could play in most positions on the field and look brilliant, but after a mediocre season at St Helens, wouldn?t it be best to play him in his strongest position of Loose Forward? Anyway, he has had a large amount of time in the Stand Off position this year in Super League and will team up in the with fellow Saints? player Sean Long. Long is an interesting prospect, as many people have been waiting quiet a while to see him actually playing for the Lions against Australia, and whilst he hasn?t had the best of seasons either, was one of the few Great Britain and Ireland players who looked good against New Zealand ?A?.
Peacock and Farrell will make up the second row for the Lions, with Farrell finally playing back in his more effective position. A lot of pressure will be on Faz to produce, lets hope for the Lions sake he can produce. Peacock was a definite choice for the other second row position after winning the ?Man of Steel? award this year, and will cause problems for the Australians when he runs out wide.
Morley will move to the front row, (usually plays second row for the Roosters) and will be expected to perform. Most likely his roll will be to defuse the likes of Kearns and Webcke and make sure they can?t make much of an impact against the Lions. With his level of experience playing against these players, if anyone can do it, Morley can. Stuart Fielden will take the other front rower position and unlike Morley can last 80 minutes of international football.
Hooker, Terry Newton, will be looking to celebrate his 25th birthday in style, finally getting a run in the Lions outfit after playing second fiddle to Keiron Cunningham, and being injured any other year Cunningham has not been there to take the hooker role. Newton is best known for his defence and adds another body for the Australians to have to work hard to get around.
Overall in the Lions side, it is possibly the bench which is the weakest component. Paul Wood, who may hoped would get a run in the first test has been left out for Paul Anderson and Barrie McDermott, two players, who whilst have a wealth of experience and good reputations are coming close to the end of their careers and in past tests have looked ?too old, too slow?. Still, they have shown in Super League this year that is not true all the time, and hopefully will prove that on game day.
Paul Deacon is a smart move on the bench, giving the Lions some more depth in the halfback position, which is very important with Sculthorpe thought to still be carrying an injury. Lee Gilmour makes up the final position on the bench, being able to slip into either second row or the backs, the Scotland representative will play a crucial role in the match.
The defensive element is there, meaning Australia will be restricted in the match, and possibly wont be allowed to run away with it. The biggest problem with such a defence oriented side is that the Lions halves are going to have to work hard to open up try scoring opportunities. Only Senior, Long, Morley and Peacock are real effective attackers in the Lions outfit.
Great Britain and Ireland Think! Don?t Drink Drive Lions: Kris Radlinksi (Wigan Warriors); Brian Carney (Wigan Warriors), Gary Connolly (Leeds Rhinos), Keith Senior (Leeds Rhinos), Richard Horne (Hull FC); Paul Sculthorpe (St Helens), Sean Long (St Helens): Stuart Fielden (Bradford Bulls), Terry Newton (Wigan Warriors), Adrian Morley (Sydney City Roosters), Jamie Peacock (Bradford Bulls) Andy Farrell (Wigan Warriors & captain), Mike Forshaw (Bradford Bulls). Interchange: Paul Anderson (Bradford Bulls), Barrie McDermott (Leeds Rhinos), Paul Deacon (Bradford Bulls), Lee Gilmour (Bradford Bulls).