Kiwis coach Stephen Kearney and his England counterpart Tony Smith have made changes to the teams named on Wednesday for the no-account World Cup game and there may be more before the teams run out at Newcastle tonight.
Smith has been considering how many of his first-choice players to rest and who should get a chance while Kearney has already made it clear he wants to see all his squad play and to try different combinations.
It is an opportunity to test players and team cohesion in a match that carries nothing, both teams have already qualified for the semifinals and are set to play each other in an eliminator next weekend at Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane.
Neither side will want to lose by much tonight and so grant the opposition a mental edge. And given the input of new players looking for a spot in the real game, the intensity should still be high.
With Nathan Cayless rested because of a sore knee, Benji Marshall is handed the captaincy and is the fourth player to lead the side after Ruben Wiki's retirement at the end of 2006, following Roy Asotasi (injured), Cayless and Jeremy Smith (v Tonga).
"He's [Marshall] in our senior leadership group for this campaign and deserves this chance. He has taken on a lot of responsibility ever since we've been in camp," Kearney said.
Marshall is the Kiwis' number one strike weapon, so the leadership job as well as goal-kicking give him tremendous responsibility in just his seventh test and at age 23.
Steve Matai and Jerome Ropati in the midfield and Manu Vatuvei outside him offer the next-best chance of busting the England line. After returning from suspension, his second in two years in tests, Matai has taken advice from veteran Ruben Wiki regarding his tackling style. "He plays with a lot of passion," Wiki said. "He's just got to keep it below the shoulders. You can't change the way players play, that's what got him into the team, the aggression that he possesses. It's a fine line."
England have lost St Helens prop Maurie Fa'asavalu who is ruled out of the rest of the World Cup with a broken finger on his right hand. Until that was determined, coach Smith had been planning to rest team junior James Graham.
That would leave England with just captain Jamie Peacock and Adrian Morley as specialist props.
Morley said England had trained very well and were motivated to redeem themselves after the 52-4 thrashing by the Kangaroos. "We were obviously devastated not just at the loss but the amount of points they racked up. We were all hurting and we're all practicing hard and I'm sure you'll see a different performance."
Smith said the England coaching staff had been watching player reactions in training, deciding whether some needed to freshen up and if the injection of new players might freshen the team as a whole and so the starting 17 and bench were yet to be settled.
"We've got some ideas but we don't want to make decisions straight away. We're considering some things and we want to see who has reacted well."
He yesterday elected to rest five of the seven St Helens squad members and took James Roby, James Graham and Ade Gardner out, while naming a 19-man squad that includes the six players yet to appear in the tournament, Paul Sykes, Mickey Higham, Jamie Jones-Buchanan, Jamie Langley, Rob Purdham and Ben Westwood.
Smith has been taking advice on NRL defensive patterns and means of counteracting them from his older brother, the local Knights coach Brian.
Kiwis v England:
* Newcastle, 10pm today
Kiwis: Lance Hohaia, Jason Nightingale, Steve Matai, Jerome Ropati, Manu Vatuvei, Benji Marshall, Thomas Leuluai, Adam Blair, Nathan Fien, Evarn Tuimavave, Simon Mannering, David Fa'alogo, Jeremy Smith (c). Interchange: Issac Luke, Greg Eastwood, Bronson Harrison, David Kidwell.
England: Paul Wellens, Mark Calderwood, Paul Sykes, Martin Gleeson, Keith Senior, Lee Smith, Leon Pryce, Danny McGuire, Rob Burrow, Jamie Peacock (c), Mickey Higham, Adrian Morley, Gareth Ellis, Gareth Hock, Jamie Jones-Buchanan, Ben Westwood, Rob Purdham, Jamie Langley, Kevin Sinfield.By Peter Jessup Email Peter