England prop Maurie Fa’asavalu is in doubt for Saturday night’s final World Cup group match against New Zealand in Newcastle due to a hand injury, while there are also fitness concerns over back-rower Jon Wilkin and five-eighth Leon Pryce.
The 28-year-old Samoa-born forward, one of only four specialist front-rowers in England’s 24-man squad, picked up the injury in last Sunday night’s shocking 52-4 loss to the Kangaroos.
Wilkin has a facial injury while Pryce took a knock to his ribs and only returned late in the match after a painkilling injection. Pryce, who was shortlisted for Man of Steel after a superb season in Super League, has been subdued in England’s opening matches but coach Tony Smith insists the St Helens star remains firmly in his World Cup plans.
"We will monitor him over the next 24 to 48 hours and see how he goes," said Smith. "If he’s fine, we will play him. If he’s not, we won’t risk him. We would love him in great form and hopefully he can find that form really soon. He probably hasn’t had the best of the last few games but I am sure with a bit of confidence he will get back on top. He’s very determined to get back to his best."
Smith is under pressure to ring the changes for Saturday’s match, which will almost certainly be a dress rehearsal for the first semi-final in Brisbane on November 15. Smith and his backroom staff had the players in for training at 8am in Melbourne on Monday and undertook a review of Sunday’s game before they flew up to Newcastle to prepare for their next match.
Meanwhile, Samoa prop Kylie Leuluai has accepted a one-match ban for a high tackle on Tonga fullback Fetuli Talanoa and will miss tonight’s clash with Ireland at Parramatta Stadium.
The Irish go into the match needing to win by six points to top Group C and secure a place in the semi-final qualifier against the winner of tonight’s Scotland-Fiji match in Gosford. Scotland need to win by 28 points to qualify ahead of the Bati for next Monday night’s clash on the Gold Coast, which will decide Australia’s semi-final opponent at the SFS on November 16.
Dublin-born front-row forward Wayne Kerr, 24, who only took up rugby league three years ago, will be on the Irish bench in place of veteran Mick Cassidy, the former Wigan and England forward who misses out through injury.