Kangaroos playmaker Johnathan Thurston has urged World Cup officials to ensure safety precautions are taken in Saturday’s final at Old Trafford to avoid a repeat of the incident that ended Luke Lewis’s tournament.
Both Australian and New Zealand players trained at the iconic stadium in Manchester on Friday and were struck by the ground’s short in-goal areas and a steep drop-off close to the perimeter of the pitch.
Lewis dislocated a shoulder when he slid into an advertising sign in a group match against Fiji in St Helens earlier this month.
Thurston fears a similar incident could occur at Old Trafford, the home of Premier League soccer club Manchester United, due to the proximity of advertising hoardings to the playing area.
“Hopefully there’s padding there for the boys that are going to score tries because if there isn’t, we’ll see another incident like (Lewis’s),” Thurston said on Friday.
“… Hopefully the tournament directors and everyone make sure there is safety there.
“We don’t want another repeat of what happened to Luke Lewis and I think everyone’s well aware of the drop-offs and everything and how short the in-goals are.
“Hopefully we’re smart enough, we’re in the biggest game of our history, that there’ll be safety precautions there.”
World Cup officials did not comment on the issue but it’s understood padding would be applied at least to the area behind the in-goal.
Old Trafford has hosted the Super League final annually for the past 16 years and the size of the pitch meets the tournament regulations.
Kiwis captain Simon Mannering said the short in-goals and drop-off area were the first things he noticed when he walked on to the ground.
“It’s going to take a good kick to keep it in there and the guys on the wing will be putting their body on the line going for the ball,” Mannering said.
“It’s something to be aware of.”
Thurston said the drop-off area close to the sideline would force him to alter his goalkicking, and hinted he could share conversion duties with skipper Cameron Smith.
“We’ve got a left-footed kicker in Cam so if we need to use him, we’ll use him,” Thurston said.
A record crowd for an international rugby league match will attend Saturday’s game, which has been declared a sell-out.
Organisers say ticket sales have topped 74,000, meaning the attendance will better the previous record crowd of 73,631 for the 1992 World Cup final between Britain and Australia at Wembley Stadium.
“It’s going to a memory the boys will never forget,” Thurston said.