Bullish Paul primed for Odsal opener: Rugby League

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The Independent Online
Super League could not have chosen a better place to launch its eagerly awaited second season tonight than Odsal Stadium, Bradford. If there is one venue where the concept of an all-singing, all-dancing summer spectacle has been an unqualified success it is at this once unloved hole in the ground.

"We give the fans a reason to get there three hours before the kick-off. It's not just a game, it's an occasion," the Bulls captain, Robbie Paul, said.

"We're going to build on all the things we did last year. We'll make so much noise that rugby league will go ballistic."

Nobody showcases the event better than Bradford, who expect a crowd in excess of 15,000 to get the season off to a flying start, but even Paul knows that it is what happens when they kick off against Warrington that really matters.

The Bulls promise to be an even more formidable proposition than last year, although they will be handicapped by the loss of Graeme Bradley, who shares captaincy duties with Paul, for the first few weeks of the season with a broken thumb.

The options that their coach, Matthew Elliott, has at his disposal are not too bad, however, with an international centre - Paul Loughlin - moving in from the flank and an international winger - Paul Cook - coming into the starting line-up.

John Dorahy's Warrington line-up was a source of controversy last week, when he named Iestyn Harris on the bench while always knowing that he was going to start the game. This week, Harris is out of the starting team and is reported to have a calf injury. Which probably means that he is fully fit and will play the entire 80 minutes.

There is also a doubt about Paul Sculthorpe and Dorahy seems genuinely to have dropped the winger, Richard Henare, in favour of Mark Forster.

Nigel Vagana, disappointing in the centres last week, moves to full-back and Paul tips both him and the new Kiwi forward, Tony Tatupu, to make a big impact as the season gets into its stride. "I played with and against them in New Zealand, and Warrington have picked up two brilliant players who can win a match out of nothing," he warned.

Shaun Edwards will not be in Wigan's side against Halifax on Sunday, even if he makes himself available. Edwards has spent most of the week in London with his girlfriend, Heather Small, the singer in the pop group M People, who is expecting their child.

"That he hasn't trained all week means that he can't be considered on Sunday," said the Wigan coach, Eric Hughes, who also accepts the growing likelihood that Edwards will leave for the London Broncos.

"It's a matter of Shaun knowing where he wants to play," he said. "If we enforced his contract and he didn't want to be here, we wouldn't get the best out of him."

Wigan are in talks with Castleford over their transfer-listed scrum-half, Tony Smith, whom Hughes describes as "a ready-made replacement".

Significantly, Castleford have left Smith out of their side for their opening Super League fixture at Salford on Sunday, with the 18-year-old Danny Orr making his debut.

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