Bell's dark days need brightening

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It is less than seven months since Leeds ushered in what appeared to be a bright new era by beating Wigan at Headingley. When the two sides meet this evening that will seem like ancient history, so alarming has been Leeds' decline this season.

Leeds' immediate response to victory over the side they have consciously set their sights upon was to lose three of their next four League matches. Even so, they finished as runners-up in the last winter Championship - heady days compared to today's plight, one from the bottom of Super League.

You could write a book on what has gone wrong, but one thing is obvious. Leeds have missed the players who have left for various reasons - especially Garry Schofield, Craig Innes and James Lowes - far more than they thought they would.

The old Leeds solution of buying their way out of trouble has not been available to them. When Dean Bell went to see his board this week with a request for money to spend, he was given only guarded assurances they would try to find him some cash.

"Perhaps it is partly my fault, for wallowing in a bit of self pity and waiting for some money," said Bell of his side's position.

"It isn't going to come, so I have to concentrate on working with what I have got and making them into a top four side."

It is a mark of Leeds' disarray that Bell now accepts he might have to play again, almost a year after last turning out for the Auckland Warriors.

It also represents another illusion shattered. Victory over Wigan hinted at a drive and professionalism that could bring success without a Bell - or an Ellery Hanley - on the field to lead by example.

Any playing comeback from the Leeds coach is several weeks away and his players must show today that he is right when he says that they can play far better than they did in their 54-8 embarrassment at Bradford last week.

Bell at least has the encouragement of having Tony Kemp back, if only on the bench initially, but he has to start with Barrie McDermott in place of the suspended Harvey Howard.

Wigan, who have been showing an interest in the released Widnes utility forward, Paul Hulme, expect to be without Va'aiga Tuigamala, who has damaged a hamstring.

Henry Paul will move to centre and Andy Farrell to loose forward, with Simon Haughton starting in the second row.