By PETER JESSUP
Rule changes will turn the World Sevens tournament in Sydney this weekend into something of a lottery where long-range tries will dictate the outcome of games.
The four-tackle rule means the bigger forwards have been taken out of it. Express pace will count and teams that make mistakes will be punished.
There are few frontrow forwards named in the teams. They have been stacked with secondrowers and centres and teams that have pace have loaded their squads with it.
Big forwards need two tackles to get over a hit and get back 10m and the sevens will be too fast for them, so coaches have picked few.
Sides get an extra point if touchdowns are made in a box under the bar, offering seven-point tries after a successful kick. So tactics will be to use pace to defeat any cover. That change is likely to encourage more effort on attack and defence near the goal-lines and more fatigue as games wear on, giving more opportunities for the speedsters.
The Warriors' chances lie in their strength and power. Captain Francis Meli plays like a forward, wing Manu Vituvae from the development squad is 110kg and 1.9m, and Clinton Toopi and Ali Lauiti'iti are their great line-breakers.
There is much interest in Lauiti'iti's return to top form after a surgery-disrupted 2003 season, plus the performance of newcomers Hame Lauaki, who is rated the next Ali, Vituvae and regular centre Vinnie Anderson's younger brother Louis at halfback. London Broncos buy-in and goal-kicker Tony Martin gets his first run in club colours.
But back-up will have to be their strength, because speed will not.
Of the 15 NRL clubs, only the Bulldogs have not taken the tournament with any real degree of seriousness. Coach Steve Folkes has picked a second rate squad because he doesn't rate it as proper preparation for the season. That drew a warning from the NRL that teams who don't make their best effort might be left out next year.
The Panthers also have a depleted line-up because they are keeping out all 18 players who will go to England to contest the World Club Championship against Bradford at McAlpine Stadium in Huddersfield on February 13. The decision means former Hibiscus Coast wing Shaun Ata gets his chance to impress.
Paramatta, two-time winners and defending champions, have named a top lineup and are favourites with the Aussie bookmakers. The side includes former Warrior Jeremiah Pai, who gets his chance thanks to judiciary commissioner Judge Greg Woods' refusal to allow an Eels appeal against the suspension of secondrower Nathan Hindmarsh.
Hindmarsh was the tournament MVP last year but is out after being banned for one game for a dangerous throw in the last Eels match last season. Woods disallowed the club's claim that a sevens match counts and Hindmarsh will have serve the ban in the team's first official pre-season game before taking the field again.
Twenty-six teams from 14 countries are competing. The tournament includes the 15 NRL sides plus NZ Residents, British club Widnes, France, Russia, who have been helped by former Kiwi coach Bob Bailey, Tonga, Fiji, Samoa, PNG and Lebanon, with several Aussie-based players.
One side gains entry from a qualifying tournament held at St Marys near Penrith in Sydney's west during the week. Teams competing include NZ Maori, NASCA Aboriginals, the US, Japan and Italy with Sydney Metropolitan Cup sides and former first-grade clubs Balmain, Newtown, Wests and North Sydney.
Former Warrior Motu Tony is named for the Broncos with former Australian schoolboys player Karmichael Hunt, who has switched from Penrith, highly rated Benji Marshall gets a run with the Tigers and last year's Warriors sevens star Willie Bishop turns out for the Roosters.
The NZ Residents side is a strong Bartercard Cup combination primarily of backs.
Hibiscus Coast fullback Daniel Floyd is one player sure to draw attention from NRL clubs.
The competition follows a knockout format, the winner after 52 games taking a A$100,000 prize.
New Zealand Warriors
Francis Meli (c), Tony Martin, Clinton Toopi, Brent Webb, Ali Lauiti'iti, Thomas Leuluai, Wairangi Koopu, Karl Te Mata, Manu Vituvae, Louis Anderson, Hame Lauaki.
New Zealand Residents
Daniel Floyd, Khamal Ganley, Robinson Godfrey, Richard Kinkaid, Sosaia Makisi, Mesili Manu, Stephen Matai, Regan Wigg, Shannon Stowers, Gary Tupou.
Scott Sattler (c), Brett Hodgson, Ben Reynolds, Daniel Fitzhenry, Shane Elford, Robert Miles, Benji Marshall, Pat Richards, Nick Graham, Mark ONeill, Dene Halatau.
North Queensland Cowboys
Travis Norton (c), Daniel Sorbello, Ty Williams, Rod Jensen, David Myles, Matt Sing, Nathan Fien, Luke O'Donnell, Michael Luck, Daniel Strickland, Michael Meigan.
Mark McLinden (c), Matthew Gafa, Terry Campese, Jason Bulgarelli, James Evans, Joel Monaghan, Brad Drew, Kris Kahler, Alan Tongue, Tyran Smith, Josh Miller.
Matt Geyer (c), Steve Turner, Luke Dyer, Matt King, Glen Turner, Dustin Cooper, Andrew McFadden, Antonio Kaufusi, Nathan Friend, Robert Tanielu.
Gorden Tallis (c), Ashley Alberts, Barry Berrigan, Shaun Berrigan, Dane Carlaw, Karmichael Hunt, Stuart Kelly, Brad Meyers, Brett Seymour, David Stagg, Motu Tony, Neal Wyatt.
Russel Aitken, Greg Bird, Paul Franze, Matt Hilder, Andrew Lomu, Ryan McGoldrick, Nathan Merritt, Matt Rieck, Stephen Ross, Michael Sullivan, Jason Kent, Sam Isemonger, Cameron Ciraldo, Andrew Emelio.
South Sydney Rabbitohs
Brad Watts, Brett Finn, Matt Riddle, Joe Williams, Ashley Harrison, Jamie Russo, Ahmad Bajouri, Mark Leafa, Mark Meredith, Beau Mundine, Rhys Hanbury.
Brett Finch (c), Luke Dorn, Stuart Webb, Lelea Paea, Tyrone Smith, Ian Henderson, Troy Malcolm, Ned Catic, Willie Bishop, George Rose, Grant Rovelli.
Amos Roberts, Brett Howland, Frank Puletua, Shaun Ata, Aaron Barba, Daniel Russell, David McLean (c), Matthew Pow, Richard Faaoso, Frank Pritchard, Ben Rogers (emergency).
Trent Cutler, Nathan Barry, Dayne Neirinckx, Brett Oliver, Cameron Phelps, Reni Maitua, Brad Morrin, Daniel Harvey, Adam Brideson, Trevor Thurling, Jackson Kaufusi.
Kurt Gidley (c), Anthony Quinn, George Carmont, Russell Richardson, Trent Salkeld, David Seage, Michael Ennis, Adam Woolnough, Steven Witt, Michael Young, Riley Brow.
Daniel Wagon (c), Luke Burt, Ronald Prince, Jamie Lyon, David Vaealiki, Lee Hopkins, Adam Dykes, Adam Peek, John Morris, Eric Groethe, Jeremiah Pai.
Manly Sea Eagles
Luke Williamson, Mark Lennon, Chris Hicks, Scott Donald, Kevin McGuinness, Anthony Watmough, Jeff Robson, Solomon Haumono, Dave Warry, Nathan Tutt, Glenn Stewart.
Julian O'Neill, Nick Royle, Paul Devlin, John Robinson, Troy Wozniak, Daniel Frame, Andy Hay, Adam Hughes, Andrew Henderson, Chris Giles, Deon Bird.
Remi Casty, Olivier Elima, Jerome Hermet, Maxime Greseque, Jamal Fakir, Cedric Gay, Fourcade Abasse, Frederic Banquet, Dimitri Pelo, Daniel Dumas.
Ovtchinnikov Roman, Bojoukov Evgeny, Gavrilin Igor, Lysenkov Alexander, Koulemine Kirill, Trofimov Vladimir, Dobrynine Sergey, Yakubov Rafael, Mitrofanov Mikhail, Akhmetshin Aidar, Sokolov Oleg, Safiullin Adel, Klebanov Alexander.