Australia captain Darren Lockyer has tipped England to upset New Zealand in the Rugby League World Cup semifinal on Saturday, as the Kiwis named a team minus bruising center Steve Matai.
The return from injury of second rower Sika Manu partly offset the loss of Matai with a shoulder injury from a New Zealand team announced Thursday which had four changes from the one which beat England in their pool match.
Manu’s recovery from a broken eye socket, suffered in the Kiwi’s tournament opener against Australia, freed Simon Mannering to move from the second row to replace Matai in the right midfield. Mannering will form a new partnership with winger Sam Perrett who was named to replace Jason Nightingale.
Captain Nathan Cayless also returns to the Kiwi lineup for Saturday’s match in Brisbane, displacing Evarn Tuimavave, while Sam Rapira was preferred to David Kidwell on the bench.
Nathan Fien will continue at halfback, combining with five-eighth Benji Marshall and allowing Thomas Leuluai, who started the tournament at halfback, to remain at hooker.
“We’ve lost Steve (Matai) which is a blow but Simon (Mannering) gives us a great replacement,” Kiwis coach Steve Kearney said.
“He’s such a reliable player, as we’ve seen throughout this campaign and again in last week’s match against England when he was forced to move to the centers.
“We’ve had plenty of competition for spots and that makes selection interesting but that’s a good place to be in.” Lockyer backed England to reverse its 36-24 pool loss to the Kiwis.
“England are a better chance than what people think,” he said.
“They started well the other night and then at halftime the coach experimented with a few players in different positions and they lost their continuity a bit and they had a couple of other guys rested.” Australia, meanwhile, continued its preparation for Sunday’s semifinal clash with the tournament’s surprise package Fiji. Lockyer said the Kangaroos must prepare for some unorthodox tactics from the little-known Fijians.
“Defensively you’ve really got to look to be on your toes,” Lockyer said.
“We’re going to expect the unexpected really because there’s some talented players that are going to be playing ad lib football at times.
“They’re going to come to the game with nothing to lose so I’m sure they’re going to try a few things to try and catch us off guard or unsettle us.” —- New Zealand: Lance Hohaia, Sam Perrett, Simon Mannering, Jerome Ropati, Manu Vatuvei, Benji Marshall, Nathan Fien, Nathan Cayless (captain), Thomas Leuluai, Adam Blair, Sika Manu, David Fa’alogo, Jeremy Smith. Interchange: Issac Luke, Greg Eastwood, Bronson Harrison, Sam Rapira.