NRL talent 'gives Kiwis the edge' - Sports News - Fanatics - the world's biggest events

NRL talent 'gives Kiwis the edge'

By Laine Clark 12/11/2008 08:52:22 PM Comments (0)

NRL experience will give New Zealand an advantage over England in their World Cup semi-final this weekend, former Kiwi captain Dean Bell says.

But it is the only English-based Kiwi - under-fire halfback Thomas Leuluai - who has been tipped by Bell to make a major impact in Saturday night's Suncorp Stadium showdown.

The Wigan star has been under pressure from explosive utility Issac Luke throughout the Cup campaign.

But Bell - the Kiwis team football manager at the World Cup - expected the much maligned Leuluai to produce a breakout game against England.

"Thomas was personally disappointed with his game against England in the first half (of their 12-point weekend pool win at Newcastle), said Bell, who played 26 Tests for the Kiwis from 1983-89.

"I know he is in a very determined mood to try and resurrect a few issues with his own game.

"He's got a bit of steel about him.

"I think he will bounce back with a good performance on Saturday."

Leuluai, 23, is the only member of the Kiwi World Cup squad who does not play Down Under.

But Bell made it clear it was New Zealand's abundant NRL talent that gave them an edge over England.

"There will be a lot of questions asked if they (England) don't make the final, but you've got to look at the standard of the opposition," he said.

"New Zealand is full of NRL players - only Leuluai is in Super League.

"They (NRL players) are used to playing in week in, week out intensity.

"Super League is a great competition, but it is a competition where there is still a big gulf between the top sides and the bottom sides.

"Until they get that right it will be hard to compete (internationally).

"There is a lot more depth in Australia and New Zealand, and with the salary cap they have in place here it evens the competition out."

But Bell countered: "In saying that they (England) have a squad out there capable of winning (the semi-final) - they are a dangerous opponent."

The Kiwi league great knows what he is talking about.

Bell played in both Australia and the Super League, including an long stint with Leuluai's current team Wigan.

After retiring in 1996, he spent another 10 years as a development manager with Leeds and Wigan.

The inaugural Warriors' captain in 1995 is now the NRL club's under 20s team manager.

Kiwi coach Stephen Kearney did not reveal a team as expected on Wednesday, however, centre Steve Matai (shoulder) won't be considered as expected and skipper Nathan Cayless is tipped to return from a knee complaint.

Manly stressed that they did not demand Matai be flown to Sydney to consult a specialist.

Manly club doctor Paul Bloomfield, who has been in close contact with the New Zealand's medical staff, referred Matai to a Sydney specialist.

The 24 year-old was carried from the field on Saturday night and taken to hospital in a neck brace.

MRI scans this week failed to reveal anything untoward.

However, he was flown to Sydney for a second opinion.

A New Zealand spokesman said more was not expected to be known on Matai until Thursday.

Second-rower Simon Mannering is expected to replace Matai.

"We didn't pull the player out. It's in co-operation with the New Zealand doctor," Sea Eagles football manager Steve Gigg told AAP.

"There's been mutual co-operation in the best interests of the player - there's no drama."

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