League: Scots will need more than just brave hearts

By Michael Brown of APNZ in Leeds

The Kiwis train ahead of their quarter-final against Scotland. Photo / Getty Images
The Kiwis train ahead of their quarter-final against Scotland. Photo / Getty Images

There's an inevitability about three of this weekend's four quarter-finals at the World Cup but it won't stop the Kiwis fielding close to a full-strength lineup against Scotland in Leeds tomorrow morning (NZT) as they search for a more complete performance.

New Zealand are expected to dispose of the Bravehearts with relative ease to progress to a likely semifinal matchup against England at Wembley Stadium. It was something predicted long before the tournament kicked off and, as good as the World Cup has been, the Big Three still remain well ahead of the rest of the field.

Coach Stephen Kearney settled on his playing 17 overnight (NZT), with Sam Moa selected to round out the four prop rotation ahead of Sam Kasiano and Manu Vatuvei, who is battling a knee complaint, confirmed on the wing.

He had already signalled Kevin Locke would play at fullback instead of Josh Hoffman but there's a feeling Hoffman still remains the leading contender for the No 1 jersey.

Hoffman wrenched his shoulder against Papua New Guinea, which influenced Kearney's thinking, but the coach also wanted to have another good look at Locke who produced a patchy performance in his only World Cup outing against France.

"I'm sure Josh would have been OK with an injection from the doctor but when we had two outside backs plus Tommy [Leuluai] come off last week it threw us out a bit,'' Kearney said. "But 80 per cent of it was me wanting to make sure I was going to make the right decision and I needed to make sure I gave Kevin another shot to see what he could offer the group.''

Moa won a place on the bench ahead of Kasiano, who has played in all of the games on tour and who has sore knees. Kearney has the luxury of five world-class props in his squad and has options throughout his squad.

"We have done all our experimenting,'' he said. "That would be disrespectful to the Scottish side. We have to be really mindful of how up for it they will be.''

Scotland have showed the value of a good halves combination, something that let some other teams down, in former NSW halfback Peter Wallace and UK Man of Steel Danny Brough. Hooker Ian Henderson and fullback Matt Russell, who has made the most tackle breaks of anyone at this tournament, round out a useful spine.

Scotland are hoping their biggest asset will be the passion they take into the contest.

"We will go out there and give absolutely everything and, if you do that, you have always got a chance,'' coach Steve McCormack said. "If you look at the way we have played in the World Cup, and some of the quality players we have, we're not here just to make the numbers up.

"We are aware of the challenge - it's a massive, massive challenge. We're not daft - we know how good New Zealand are - but we will give it everything and in sport shocks can happen. If New Zealand have an off day and we perform exceptionally well then who knows what can happen?''

The bookies have given them little chance, handing the Kiwis a 42-point start, but the tournament has already been something of a triumph for them with two wins and a draw in pool play.

Scotland rugby league have heard from, among others, the Scottish parliament, national Football Association and Scottish Rugby Union congratulating them on their success and found recognition on the back pages of the country's newspapers.

McCormack said it was a welcome change because he thought a few people in Scotland probably didn't even know they had a rugby league team. One can only wonder, then, what will happen if they can somehow pull off a miracle in Leeds tomorrow morning (NZT).

Kiwis side to play Scotland at Headingley, Leeds, on Saturday (9am NZT): Josh Hoffman, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, Bryson Goodwin, Dean Whare, Manu Vatuvei, Kieran Foran, Shaun Johnson, Ben Matulino, Issac Luke, Jesse Bromwich, Frank Pritchard, Sonny Bill Williams, Simon Mannering (c). Interchange: Elijah Taylor, Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, Sam Moa, Fran-Paul Nu'uausala.


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