NRL Notebook 16 April 2004

Danny McGuire ? Great Britain?s new rising star ... QLD halfback questions ... Ben Harris ? forgotten hero ... ANZAC Test Team

With the Tri-Series featuring Australia, New Zealand and Great Britain set down to follow the current NRL season, there is a young five-eighth making a strong case to participate. Danny McGuire, the 21-year-old Leeds Rhinos livewire tore apart the vaunted Bradford Bulls on Good Friday. Despite his tender age, McGuire has already clocked up the half-century in appearances for the Rhinos and is poised to break into the touring party after a scintillating start to the Super League season. He has already scored six tries in only half a dozen games, leads the league with an amazing 16 clean line breaks (7 more than Lesley Vainikolo), and has turned up the heat on incumbent five-eighth Paul Sculthorpe with a classy display against the Bulls.

McGuire scored two breathtaking individual tries, both times down the right hand side of the Bulls defence and seems to have a mountain of time with ball in hand. Two deft kicks set up a pair of tries for Andrew Dunemann and Marcus Bai, putting the youngster well and truly on the international map. Given the performance was in front of the likely British coach, Bradford?s Brian Noble, the selectors will have little trouble convincing Noble of McGuire?s appeal.

It has been a number of years since a truly exciting playmaker has come out of the UK, and with the raps McGuire is getting from the commentators overseas, Australian and New Zealand fans might get a first hand look at the future of English Rugby League later this year.

In the same game, there was left little doubt that Bradford forwards Stuart Fielden and Jamie Peacock would be major impact players in the NRL. And while the Super League needs the credibility created by home-grown talent, it would be a tragedy if these two genuinely talented players don?t have a crack in the best competition in the world.

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With Shaun Berrigan now making his home in the centres, the Queensland Origin Team is without their incumbent halfback. Darren Lockyer looks set begin the Origin Series at five-eighth but halfback is well and truly up for grabs. Veterans Ben Ikin and Paul Green have retired, so the question remains who is left to pick from for the position that has given the Maroons so many headaches since Alfie Langer retired. Broncos halfback Brett Seymour has hardly set the world on fire so far this season, while North Queensland?s Nathan Fien, despite having Origin experience has only just won the Cowboys halfback spot back from Chris Sheppard. Peter John Marsh remains on the sidelines meaning Cameron Smith will almost certainly play hooker, but the genuine chance is Wests Tigers half Scott Prince. Prince has been in good form for the Tigers and has an outstanding kicking game, which would mean far less pressure on Lockyer in that key department. If I were a Queensland selector, I would pick Prince with little hesitation.

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You have to feel sorry for Bulldogs centre Ben Harris. After being the Bulldogs rising star of 2003, injury meant he started the season on the Injured List and a few weeks ago made his return in Premier League. When Matt Utai returned from suspension he walked straight back into the starting lineup, pushing Jamaal Lolesi into the centres and Sonny-Bill Williams onto the bench. However, there has been no such free ride for Harris who was heralded as the new face of the Bulldogs late last season by the then CEO Steve Mortimer. When Willie Talau and Nigel Vagana left the club in the off-season, the question seemed to be who would partner Harris in the centres. Now it seems that Willie Tonga and Lolesi have made it a question of whether Harris can get back into the team at all, let alone as the number one centre.

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Finally, With the Australian Test Team due to be named Sunday Night, NRL Notebook has picked the team we would choose for the New Zealand clash.

Darren Lockyer (c) Timana Tahu Brent Tate Shaun Berrigan Anthony Minichiello Trent Barrett Craig Gower Shane Webcke Danny Buderus Luke Bailey Petero Civoniceva Ben Kennedy Shaun Timmins Bench: Bryan Fletcher, Nathan Hindmarsh, Joel Clinton, and Trent Waterhouse

Size, size, and a fair amount of skill in the Australian pack for the clash with the huge Kiwi forwards. Berrigan and Timmins have enough utility value to prevent the selection of a back on the bench, while the constant turnover of big men from the bench will allow Australia to stretch the New Zealand defensive unit on the fringe of the ruck. The form of Hindmarsh, Waterhouse, Clinton, and Fletcher demands their selection while the rest of the pack are logical choices. In the backline Craig Gower just edges Brett Kimmorley, who needs to lead his Sharks back to respectability before he can challenge for the NSW jersey. Although he was in great form on the Kangaroo Tour, Gower has been knocking on the door so hard that his claims cannot be ignored this time. Lockyer, Barrett and Minichiello is a better combination than simply Lockyer and Minichiello and that is why Barrett will regain his pivot role. Timana Tahu proved his fitness last weekend against the Warriors while, Berrigan and Tate are an awesome centre pairing and only Adam MacDougall on form can challenge them for a spot.

Some of the unfortunate omissions include: MacDougall, Matt Sing, Luke Lewis, Matthew Gidley, Chris Flannery and Luke Davico who has been outstanding for the Raiders so far this season.

Your thoughts?

Drop me a line: nicolsonsc@yahoo.com.au

Regards,

Warrick NICOLSON ========================= Freelance Sports Journalist NICOLSON SPORTS CONSULTANCY Ph: 0402 851 485 Fax: 02 9653 1483 nicolsonsc@yahoo.com.au

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