League: Kearney delays naming side

Stephen Kearney. Photo / Getty Images
Stephen Kearney. Photo / Getty Images

Kiwis coach Stephen Kearney is expected to wait until the day of the match before confirming his line-up for Sunday morning's (NZT) crunch Four Nations clash against England in Hull.

With prop Sam McKendry ruled out of the tournament after breaking his jaw against Wales last Saturday, Kearney said the other 22 players all remained in contention for the team's final round-robin match.

The Kiwis must win or draw against England to advance to the Four Nations final against Australia in Leeds next Sunday - both the Kiwis and England have a win and a loss after their first two games. If the match should end in a draw, the Kiwis would progress through a superior points percentage.

"We have some selection issues to consider and won't be making a final decision on our side until as late as possible,'' Kearney said.

The Kiwis travelled by train from London to Leeds overnight (NZT) after a final training session at the Wasps Rugby Club and will have a final hitout in Leeds tonight.

England have some selection issues of their own and could delay naming their side, also. Captain captain Jamie Peacock took a heavy blow to his knee in the 36-20 defeat to Australia at Wembley on Sunday and is in doubt.

Prop James Graham and second-rower Gareth Ellis, who both experienced lower-back spasms, are expected to recover in time to face the Kiwis.

New Zealand are approaching the game as if it is finals football, given that defeat means an early exit from the tournament, and the world champions don't want to suffer the same fate they did in 2009, the last time the Four Nations was played in the northern hemisphere.

On that occasion, the Kiwis drew with Australia in their opening game before a defeat of France. They were then beaten by England in their final pool game to be bundled out of the tournament.

A place in the final is all the motivation the players need but Wigan's Thomas Leuluai has more reason to play well. He was named players' player of the day in their 36-0 defeat of Wales last Sunday after having a key hand in three of the Kiwis' tries and in line to make his 30th test appearance on Sunday, which would move him ahead of his father James, who played 29 tests for the Kiwis from 1979-1986.

The Leuluais' total of 58 tests so far is thought to be a world record for a father and son combination. Statistician and historian David Middleton said the best father and son total for Australia is 35 by the late Steve Rogers (24 tests) and his son Mat (11 tests). The most prolific father and son total for Great Britain is believed to be 30 by Bill Burgess senior (16 tests) and Bill Burgess junior (14 tests).

Welsh forward Craig Kopczak, the man who ended McKendry's tournament, has escaped a one-match ban and is free to play Australia in Wrexham on Monday morning (NZT). He was charged with a dangerous shoulder charge for the tackle which left McKendry with a broken jaw and, although he was cautioned, avoided sanction.

The Kangaroos will be without the suspended Tony Williams as well as Billy Slater and Robbie Farah. Slater is out of the tournament with a broken collar bone while Farah has returned to Australia to be with his sick mother.

- APNZ

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