Australia's new captain Danny Buderus has admitted that fear of another sporting failure to follow the loss of the Ashes will drive the Kangaroos in Hull tonight. The 27-year-old Newcastle Knights hooker was thrust into the role of a potential Ricky Ponting when Darren Lockyer broke a bone in his foot during a training session in Paris two weeks ago, conceding that the captaincy would prove a poisoned chalice if Australia were to return home beaten for the first time since they suffered two shock defeats in France in 1978.
"That's the burden I'll get if we do go home in that situation," said Buderus after Great Britain's 38-12 win against New Zealand last weekend set up the possibility of the Kangaroos failing to reach the final of the Gillette Tri-Nations series.
A repeat of the 24-12 defeat they suffered in Buderus's last game as captain, against Britain at the JJB Stadium last year when Lockyer was out with a rib injury, and they would finish bottom of the Tri-Nations table on points difference.
"It's very interesting, an exciting finish with a lot of scenarios," Buderus added diplomatically. "But we don't want to get involved in all those sort of theories. All we're focused on is winning the game."
Recent history would suggest that when the pressure is on, Australia's players have the big-match experience to see off Britain - most recently, and spectacularly, in last year's Tri-Nations final when they led 40-0 by half-time.
The absence of Lockyer, the earlier loss of Andrew Johns and Nathan Hindmarsh with knee injuries and the international retirement of Shane Webcke, the veteran prop who was another key figure in last year's final, provide a few substantial straws for British optimists to clutch.
But Wigan's Australian coach Ian Millward has warned that Lockyer's absence could even strengthen the Kangaroos tonight because of his stand-off replacement Trent Barrett's club combination with the centres Matt Cooper and Mark Gasnier.
"Barrett can set this side alight," Millward wrote in his weekly tipping column for the Sporting Life website. "He plays with Gasnier and Cooper at St George and knows their game."
Millward also believes the selection of Craig Gower ahead of Scott Prince at scrum-half, Jason Ryles instead of Steve Price at prop, and Craig Wing on the interchange bench adds three more threats to Britain, predicting a comfortable Australia win.
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Andy Wilson is the rugby league writer for The Guardian and The Observer newspapers. We thank them in reproducing Andy's article here.Like