Bradford can be the least worst

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The Independent Online
Like some Victorian novel with its myriad sub-plots, most, if not all, the loose ends in the qualifying stage of the Visa World Club Championship will be tied up this weekend.

In Europe's Pool A, the question is who will make up the numbers with Wigan and London. Bradford could ensure that by winning at Cronulla today, but there is little in their form in the competition so far to suggest that they are capable of that. They do, though, have Steve McNamara back after injury and Jeremy Donougher returning after his long lay-off to increase their forward strength.

Even if they lose, the Bulls' points difference is far better, or should that be less bad, than those of St Helens or Warrington. Even a decisive defeat by Cronulla could still leave them in third place, unless either of their rivals from the other side of the Pennines does the unlikely by winning in the southern hemisphere in this last round of matches.

Warrington take on the Australasian Pool A leaders, the Auckland Warriors, in a match to be played in Christchurch tomorrow, while Saints are at Penrith on Monday.

If both lose, the fourth qualifying place and a play-off against the top team in European Pool B will depend on who loses by least.

A number of Saints' players will face criticism from their board on their return over the bleached hair-dos they adopted en masse for their trip to Australia. That, it is felt, is the sort of thing you can get away with when you are winning, but which looks uncomfortably like a gang of lads going on holiday in the context of the heavy defeats they have suffered.

Warrington Wolves may ask to be allowed to use New Zealand "guest" players because of their high injury toll. Andrew Duncan is already out and others still in doubt include their captain, Paul Sculthorpe, Mark Hilton, Tony Tatupu and Kelly Shelford.

In Australian Pool A, Auckland, Brisbane, Cronulla and Penrith have perfect records going into the last round and the three qualifying places will be decided on points difference if all four win again.

Auckland and Brisbane have identical margins in their favour and are strong favourites for the home draws in the quarter-finals.

The Hunter Mariners only need to beat Sheffield tomorrow to join them in the last eight. If they were to lose, Adelaide could sneak in by beating Salford.

In the equivalent European table, Leeds now know exactly what they have to do against North Queensland tomorrow night. Paris' 30-12 defeat in Perth yesterday means that a win, a draw or even a defeat by a single point will be enough for Leeds to make the play-off.

Oldham Bears suffered a blow to their Super League survival hopes yesterday when their prop Brett Goldspink damaged a knee in training.

The Australian, a tower of strength in the Oldham pack all season, looks certain to miss the club's last six games of the Super League season.

"We fear he has torn a medial ligament and also damaged the cartilage," Bob Lindner, the Bears' coach, said. "He will have a scan immediately but we fear the worst."

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