Hopes rise for key trio
Peacock, Graham and Ellis making progress ahead of crunch clash
Last Updated: 08/11/11 4:17pm
Gareth Widdop: came off the bench in Saturday's 36-20 defeat by Australia
England head coach Steve McNamara is still hoping to name injured forwards Jamie Peacock, James Graham and Gareth Ellis in his side to face New Zealand on Saturday.
The England camp are confident the knee injury sustained by captain Peacock is not as serious as first feared following the results of scans, and report that both Graham and Ellis are responding to treatment on lower-back injuries.
With that in mind, McNamara - who has fielded the same team for all three Four Nations matches so far - may delay Wednesday's scheduled team announcement until later in the week.
"Under the expert guidance of the England medical team, ongoing investigations and intensive treatment are being carried out on the three players," said McNamara.
"They are responding to treatment and we will get a clearer picture on their level of fitness later in the week."
McNamara will be tempted to go with an unchanged team if possible after his side pushed the Kangaroos so close at Wembley last Saturday and spirits, according to Melbourne Storm stand-off Gareth Widdop, remain high.
"We were disappointed we didn't get the win but it's gone now," he said. "This is do or die and everybody is really confident.
"I haven't seen much of New Zealand but no doubt they'll be fired up and ready to go. It's do or die for them too so they'll be ready for a big effort."
Having faced Melbourne team-mates Cameron Smith, Billy Slater and Cooper Cronk at Wembley, Widdop is now preparing to come up against two of the Storm forwards who promise to be key players for the Kiwis.
Adam Blair is expected to move up from the second row to help plug the gap caused by injury to prop Sam McKendry, while back rower Sika Manu will be aiming to build on his two-try display against Wales.
"It was good playing against the Melbourne guys in the Australian team and I'm looking forward to coming up against the Kiwi boys," Widdop said.
"Everybody knows what Blairy can do. He's just come back into the team and was probably feeling his way a bit last Saturday.
"No doubt they'll be fired up and ready to go. It's do or die for them too so they'll be ready for a big effort."
Gareth Widdop Quotes of the week
"Sika has been going well for us all year. He's very dangerous, big and strong, so we'll definitely have to keep an eye on him."
Widdop acknowledges, however, that the biggest threat will come from Kiwis skipper Benji Marshall.
"I've played against Benji a few times this year," he said. "He's a great player and we are all going to have to be switched on against him.
"We've just got to focus on ourselves, get on with our jobs and roles and hopefully everything will take care of itself."
England will have the benefit of playing in front of a partisan crowd at the KC Stadium but New Zealand coach Stephen Kearney, who won a Challenge Cup winners' medal during his brief spell with Hull, says his players are braced for a hostile atmosphere.
"I know all about how passionate the Hull people are when it comes to rugby league and no doubt the atmosphere will be something else when we kick off," said Kearney.
"I played in front of some big crowds at the KC Stadium during my year at the club and they were always very good at making noise.
"It's going to be the same this weekend but we'll be prepared for it. Wherever we play over here we know we are going to have the crowd against us, except when we play Australia, so the noise won't come as a surprise."
Saturday's game is a winner-takes-all clash, with a place in the following week's final against Australia at stake.