Great Britain play cards close to
their chest

Great Britain has confirmed it will keep secret its halves combination for Sunday morning's Tri-Nations clash with New Zealand until just an hour before kick-off.

The ploy came as Britain centre Keith Senior was passed fit to play his first game in seven weeks, a New Zealand referee was appointed to handle the match and NRL grand final referee Tim Mander was named as Australia's referee for the England leg of the series.

While iconic Kiwi half Stacey Jones seems certain to play in his last test on Saturday night despite a minor injury, the great mystery of the lead-up is which of Paul Deacon, Richard Horne, Rob Burrow and Iestyn Harris will make up Britain's scrumbase combination.

Kiwis coach Brian McClennan has already slated the British practise of naming a side only the day before the game but the home team was unconcerned.

"We'll be leaving it until an hour before kick-off to announce that," Britain team manager Phil Clarke said today.

"We have to name a 19-man squad the day before. We'll be taking 24 to London."

All four halves are likely be in the final 19.

So secretive is the British camp that it will train in Salford before bussing through peak hour traffic on London on match eve to avoid the pre-match spotlight.

McClennan said yesterday: "We like to name it early for the public's sake but, if they're going to do that, we're going to have to do it too, which is pretty poor "You've got programmes that are going to be printed."

Asked for a response to the blast, Clarke said: "I haven't read it so I can't comment."

Britain was willing to divulge the fitness of Senior, who hasn't played since lasting just half of Leeds' Challenge Cup final loss to Hull in August due to an ankle injury.

Great Britain held an opposed session against the England squad today and Clarke said: "He went fine, I think. He is fully fit."

The appointment of New Zealand referee Glen Black, not popular with the Australians, is a break with the policy of appointing referees from neutral countries for pool-stage matches.

Black - who turned down an approach from the NRL earlier this year - has been in Britain for several weeks, gaining match practise.

Mander's selection for Tri-Nations test duty comes despite NRL referees coach Robert Finch saying earlier in the year he would not be surprised if the experienced whistler retires at the end of the season.

Mander has denied the rumour - but stopped short of guaranteeing he would definitely go round again in 2006.

Warrrior Clinton Toopi (shoulder) is expected to supplant Shontayne Hape in the centres for the Kiwis. "He's had a miraculous recovery, he's really come on," said McClennan.

"He was very, very good in that first Test against Australia."

Further fuelling the tension between the camps is the decision of Bradford, coached by Britain boss Brian Noble, to have winger Lesley Vainikolo undergo knee surgery rather than turn out for the Kiwis.

A place is likely to be found for Leeds' Ali Lauitiiti, while prop Nathan Cayless is unavailable for the European leg of the tournament because of an impending child.

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