Spotlight on little men as Kiwis shuffle - Sports News - Fanatics - the world's biggest events

Spotlight on little men as Kiwis shuffle

By Mark Geenty 06/11/2008 02:59:33 PM Comments (0)

His key little men are yet to fire, but Kiwis coach Stephen Kearney hopes some mix and match will lift their rugby league World Cup bid to another level.

Kearney retained Thomas Leuluai and Benji Marshall as his halves combination, and Nathan Fien as starting hooker, for a third consecutive Cup match as they prepare to face England in their final pool match in Newcastle on Saturday.

But the jersey numbers may be decoration only because he admits there will be some shuffling before a likely semifinal against the same opponents in Brisbane next week.

Leuluai spent time at dummy half during last Saturday's 48-6 win over Papua New Guinea and again at Wednesday's training, a spot he's previously been effective in.

Marshall is being tasked with imposing himself from first receiver with the versatile Fien and bench hooker Issac Luke backing up the star five-eighth in the playmaker's role.

"I'm not set firmly on who I'm going to have in what position there. It gives us an opportunity this weekend to have a good look at it," Kearney said.

"Just look at the players who caused the most damage for Australia and England. All the little guys, (Rob) Burrow and (James) Roby, (Darren) Lockyer always causes trouble and Billy Slater too."

After a poor 30-6 loss to red-hot tournament favourites Australia, then a nine tries-to-one victory over a below par PNG, it is clear there is some improvement needed.

After Kearney revealed a team with five personnel changes and the elevation of bench forward David Fa'alogo to the starting 13, the Kiwis put in perhaps their sharpest training of the campaign.

Marshall ran strongly and was a dominant figure after sitting out the second half last Saturday due to a hamstring twinge.

Kearney was a largely happy coach but wary of a good dress rehearsal not always translating to match day.

"We prepared well before Australia too," he said with a wry grin.

"Training well gives you a good opportunity to play well on the weekend. I've been part of many trainings when they've been crap and you put out your best game of the year.

"It was good (on Wednesday) in terms of performance, but we trained well all week before the Australia game. You've got to make sure you take that out on to the paddock."

Kearney admits the Kiwis still have some tricks up their sleeves, and it seems with little riding on Saturday's match, all may not be revealed yet.

"I don't think we've played anywhere near what we're capable of, and that was always going to be the case."

The Kiwis cut loose against some flaky defence from Tonga and PNG, but the real test was how they went under "extreme pressure" on Saturday, Kearney said.

England also need to lift their game after receiving a big fright in a 32-22 win over PNG then a 4-52 hiding from the Kangaroos in Melbourne last Sunday.

They kept their preparations private this week, with coach Tony Smith addressing a small media contingent who were then politely asked to leave training.

He later named a 19-man squad but has not confirmed a playing 17.

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