Alas poor Yorks

Rugby league
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The Independent Online
Before the start of this season, the meeting between Leeds and Halifax this afternoon could have been billed in advance as a clash of Yorkshire's best prospects for Super League success. They had, after all, finished second and third respectively in the last winter season and began this campaign with some reason for optimism.

But today finds Halifax one place off the bottom with only one point and Leeds immediately above them with only two wins from their seven matches. Something has clearly gone badly wrong in West Yorkshire.

Leeds's problems are the easier to analyse. They began the season without the necessary depth and quality in key positions like scrum-half, stand- off and loose forward and have paid the price, part of which is that some of their most promising young players have responded to the lack of direction by going backwards.

There were signs against Paris-St Germain last week that Dean Clark, who came on as a substitute, could be part of the answer. At this stage of his career, the New Zealander hardly ranks as an electrifying scrum- half, but he has the experience Leeds need if they are going to introduce some organisation in their play.

Halifax have had their problems at half-back as well - largely caused by injury - but the decline of a side that finished last season in such buoyant mood is harder to explain. There is a theory that they are too big and heavy in the forwards for the style of rugby that is required in Super League. A bigger factor is that they have forgotten how to win games, several of their defeats being close-run affairs decided in the last few minutes.

Rumours suggest that Leeds and Halifax have been eyeing each other for possible solutions to their problems, with a deal being mooted that would take Paul Rowley and Martin Moana to Headingley and Mick Shaw and Graham Holroyd to Thrum Hall. Leeds have refuted those rumours particularly forcefully.

The 17-year-old Terry Newton continues at hooker for Leeds, with Shaw possibly fit enough for a reluctant place on the bench. Halifax now have the Jacksons, Wayne and Michael, on their injury list, with Richard Marshall making his full debut at prop and another 20-year-old, Andy James, on the bench.

"They are not a side that should be at the foot of the table and they are going to come good at some stage," said a wary Leeds manager, Hugh McGahan. "We are desperate, but they are even more desperate than us."

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