Slater wary of Widdop threat in World Cup final

Australia full-back Billy Slater has signalled out his former Melbourne team-mate Gareth Widdop as England’s main threat ahead of this Saturday’s World Cup final.

Widdop started his career with Melbourne juniors as a full back, but has now switched to stand-off because of the presence Slater posseses in the number one jersey.

Widdop made the move to St George Illawarra four years ago, and has been such a success since the change in position, that he was named the Dally M stand-off in 2017.

Despite success in the role at domestic level, Widdop has found himself playing in his old full-back role with England, and has been pivotal in England’s surge to the final.

“Gareth is just a natural footy player,” Slater said. “He can play anywhere really. As long as he has got the ball in his hands, he is going to be a danger to the opposition.

“He’d always had this sort of potential. We all know what Gareth Widdop is capable of.

“He has got a running game but is more a skilful passer of the football. He poses a threat out the back and distributes the ball on to his outside men.

“Being aware of where Gareth is at all times when they are attacking our line is probably key for us. He is a big indicator of where they are going to go. He is probably their strike weapon.”`

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Might Bite Set to Step Up in Class in King George VI Chase

Last season’s RSA Chase winner Might Bite has opened up as the bookmakers’ favourite to win the King George VI Chase this year, where he is set to take the step up in class for the first time now he is out of novice company.

Nicky Henderson’s chaser made his seasonal reappearance at Sandown earlier this month, where he did not put a foot wrong in his victory as he prevailed by eight lengths. A return to Kempton on Boxing Day will come exactly 12 months after he fell at the last fence in the Kauto Star Novices’ Chase where he had the race wrapped up before his mistake.

horse racing
Credit: Racing Post via Twitter

When Might Bite ended his 2016/17 campaign, there was no doubt he was the leading novice in his division. He led for the majority of the race in the RSA Chase at the Cheltenham Festival. After jumping the last, the eight-year-old veered to the right, which allowed his closest challenger Whisper to make up ground up the hill at the Gloucestershire racecourse. Fortunately for connections, he found a second wind and got back up by a neck to land the 3m contest. Just weeks later, he followed that success up with victory in the Mildmay Novices’ Chase at the Grand National meeting at Aintree.

Along with Might Bite, Champion Trainer Henderson has a number of novices who will be taking on the older generation in the new campaign, including Altior who is included in many pundits’ five horses to follow this season. If his novices make the step up in class successfully, he is likely to defend his title and become the Champion Trainer for the fifth time in his career.

Thistlecrack on Course for Return to Action

In 2016 Thistlecrack was one of the most impressive winners of the King George that we have seen in recent years. The first-year chaser blew a strong field that included Cue Card and Silviniaco Conti and, as a result, became the new favourite to win the 2017 Cheltenham Gold Cup. Sadly for connections of the former World Hurdle winner, he picked up an injury in January which ruled him out of the Festival.

Colin Tizzard’s runner has not raced since his setback 10 months ago, however, he did have a racecourse gallop a couple of weeks ago at Wincanton and connections have been positive about how their superstar has schooled in recent months.

Despite winning the King George in 2016, the nine-year-old has only ever run in five races over fences in his career so far. If all goes well at Kempton, he is likely to appear in January again in the Cotswold Chase before his first shot at the Cheltenham Gold Cup in March.

Thistlecrack recorded an official rating of 174 over hurdle and with a second win in the Boxing Day feature in the UK, he could at least match that figure over fences. The talented chaser is a top price of 7/2 to become the fourth horse in this millennium to defend its crown in the King George.

Gold Cup Winner Sizing John Expected to Line Up at Kempton

We could be seeing a lot more of the Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Sizing John this season in the UK, as not only does he have an entry in the Betfair Chase at Haydock, he is included in the latest declarations for the King George.

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Credit: Racing UK via Twitter

Since stepping up to the 3m division earlier in 2017, Sizing John has been in the form of his life with victories also coming in the Irish Gold Cup and Punchestown Gold Cup. Jessica Harrington’s runner won lots of prize money when he was campaigned over 2m, however, he often bumped into Douvan where he had to settle for second place in many of the top races in the UK and Ireland.

The seven-year-old was one of the youngest ever winners of the Gold Cup back in March, therefore, connections must be hopeful that their horse can continue to improve. He is 7/2 to come out on top at Kempton which is the second leg of the Chase Triple Crown this season.

The King George is part of a packed card on Boxing Day which also features the Kauto Star Novices’ Chase and all the leading races can be seen live on ITV1.

Loftus-Cheek won’t let injury dampen positives from England bow

Ruben Loftus-Cheek will remain positive after a back injury cruely cut short his second appearance for the England national team, during the goalless draw with Brazil at Wembley on Tuesday.

Loftus-Cheek, who is currently on loan with Crystal Palace from Chelsea, put in an eye-catching performance on his debut for the national side against Germany last week.

The 21-year-old was then rewarded for that positive display by being given the chance to start for England when they faced Brazil.

However, the midfielder was only able to complete 35 minutes of the game with the South Americans, when a lower back problem flared up.

After the match, Southgate said he expected the issue to “settle down fairly quickly” and praised the contribution of Loftus-Cheek, whom he coached in the under-21s, as “absolutely outstanding”.

In a post on his personal Twitter account after the game, Loftus-Cheek wrote: “Disappointing to have my night cut short after being on the pitch with some amazing players. Will stay positive after a good week.”

An update on whether Loftus-Cheek will be available for Palace’s upcoming Premier League match is expected when Roy Hodgson holds a press conference on Thursday afternoon.

The Eagles currently sit bottom of the table, and have picked up just one point since recording their first and only league win of the season, when they defeated Chelsea on October 14.

‘I’m a work in progress’ – Lukaku

Romelu Lukaku has sent a message directly to any of his critics, saying he should not be judged right now as the ‘finished article’.

Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho was left gobsmacked by the lack of support for his striker following last weekend’s vital victory over Tottenham at Old Trafford.

The £75m price that the forward cost United has clearly left some of the fanbase expecting more, despite Lukaku having scored 12 goals in his first 11 games.

Despite the electric start, the Belgian has, however, gone six games without scoring. That shouldn’t stop punters from backing the striker to find the net on Sunday against his old club Chelsea, which means it could be a good time to use betulator.com to work out your maximum winnings.

During an interview with Sky Sports, Lukaku asked for the patience of United fans, and insisted he wasn’t close to being the finished product.

“I’m just focused on improving year in, year out. That’s the most important thing. Every time I try to add something to my game that wasn’t there.

“I think a lot of people are judging me as the finished article. I’m 24. You can’t judge me as the finished article. I’d rather have a career where year after year I improve rather than going to the top and decline.

“I know I have a lot of talent, I know I can do a lot of stuff. I can score goals with my left, with my right, with the head but I want to be a creator, I want to have more assists, I want to make sure that when my team is in difficulties that they can count on me.

“I want to be a winner. It’s not about me as an individual, I want to win, and I think here I’m at the perfect stage and at the perfect age where I can take my career to the next level.”

Sunday sees United head to Stamford Bridge to face the Premier League champions Chelsea, as they look to prevent allowing leaders Manchester City from opening a larger gap at the top than the five-point advantage they already possess.

Mourinho won’t be the only familiar face to make a return to Chelsea, with Nemanja Matic set to play against his former side.

The Portuguese manager admitted he was surprised when he was given the opportunity to sign the midfielder, during an interview with Sky Sports.

“I was surprised when (Matic’s) agent called me to say, ‘Do you want him?’

“I was surprised, but he’s an agent I know well. Normally he’s very direct and objective, he doesn’t waste time, he doesn’t try to get people to be interested in his players to improve their situation at their club.

“So when he told me, ‘You can have him if you want’, of course I want.”