Kiwi coach Steve Kearney is playing his cards close to his chest and keeping the make-up of his team for the rugby league World Cup semifinal against England in Brisbane on Saturday under wraps.

Australia and Fiji, who square off in the other semifinal in Sydney on Sunday, as well as England all named their sides on Wednesday, including their starting 13s.

Last week, in the build-up to the Kiwis’ pool fixture with the English, England coach Tony Smith didn’t finalise his line-up until late in the piece.

Kearney said that wasn’t the reason he was delaying his announcement this time around.

“It’s got nothing to do with England,” he said.

“It’s more how we are thinking, and what we think is going to work on Saturday night.”

Smith has made just one change to his run-on side, with St Helens’ Leon Pryce returning as five-eighth for Martin Gleeson, who moves back out to the centres and Paul Sykes dropping out.

Two others rested for England’s pool defeat to New Zealand last weekend, prop James Graham and hooker James Roby are recalled on to a six-man bench.

But there is no place in the 19-man squad for another two players who sat out the 36-24 loss in Newcastle, half Danny McGuire or winger Ade Gardner.

Kearney said England would be a different proposition this time around.

Graham, he noted, was the English Super League’s Man of Steel, or player of the season, this year for his exploits with St Helens.

“James Roby is a wonderful player and Pryce will make a difference,” he said.

“What the lads achieved last week is going to be doubly hard this week. They’re aware of that, there’s no doubt about that.”

Kearney said the pool win over England, when the Kiwis turned around a 24-8 deficit and kept the opposition scoreless from the 28th minute on, had given his players a lift.

“The second half was a confidence booster in the sense that we stuck to a structure that we thought would be effective for us and it was.”

However, the slow start they made both that night and against Australia in the tournament opener was an issue that had to be addressed.

The players had been made aware of that and the need to take the right tactical options in the opening 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, the haka controversy looks to be dying down, with Kearney describing it as a storm in a teacup.

The English response to the challenge in Newcastle was to stand in a huddle, leading the Kiwis to encroach over the halfway line to get close to them.

After the match, stand-in New Zealand skipper Benji Marshall criticised the opposition for being disrespectful.

Smith reacted by saying there was no disrespect shown by his players, who did what they always did in England by getting in a huddle.

He also suggested lack of respect on the part of the Kiwis, saying the English didn’t stick their tongues out and didn’t enter into the opposition’s half.

Kearney said today that there was no disappointment on his part in how England had responded to the haka, adding that it was up to the individual what he did.

“As I’ve said all along, that’s their right to do that,” he said.

“A couple of the lads were a little upset and they challenged that. I thought it was a storm in the teacup.”

Kearney also dampened down the refereeing issue, after both he and Smith were upset over different aspects of Australian official Tony Archer’s display in Newcastle and both went to see the tournament’s refereeing boss, Mick Stone.

Speaking before Australian Shayne Hayne was appointed to control the semifinal, Kearney said he had simply sought clarification from Stone about how the ruck area would be policed.

While Smith had wanted a Northern Hemisphere referee for the rematch with the Kiwis, Kearney said the whistle should go to the person who was best qualified.

“I’ve always been of the belief that the best man should get the job, irrespective of where he’s from,” he said.

“I’m confident Mick Stone and his people will make the right decision.”


Paul Wellens, Mark Calderwood, Martin Gleeson, Keith Senior, Lee Smith, Leon Pryce, Rob Burrow, Adrian Morley, Mickey Higham, Jamie Peacock (captain), Gareth Ellis, Jamie Jones-Buchanan, Rob Purdham.

Interchange (two to be omitted) – James Graham, Ben Westwood, James Roby, Kevin Sinfield, Jon Wilkin, Gareth Hock.