Fight for the higher ground

Rugby league

With only one Super League game scheduled today, the battle to replace one of the teams in that elite group assumes centre stage. The tussle for the one promotion place on offer is proving every bit as fierce as anticipated, with half a dozen clubs, including Salford, who played on Friday night, feeling they have a chance of being the chosen ones.

The only unbeaten team in the first division is Keighley, and the way that they have sustained their form after the disappointments of the last 12 months has been exemplary. If the summer rugby revolution had never taken place, Keighley would have been promoted to the top flight as last year's champions of the old second division.

They lost that right in the smoke-filled rooms where the new Super League structure was thrashed out. Unfortunately, Keighley had budgeted for being in the top division and there were signs during the last, transitional winter season that the wheels were falling off their bandwagon. This season has seen them refreshed with a new optimism, and victory at Wakefield Trinity today would keep them clear at the top.

Two Australian recruits have helped Keighley to recover their momentum. Steve Parsons, from the Gold Coast club, has given the England coach, Phil Larder, more depth in his front row, but it has been the form of Andrew King, from the same Queensland club, that has caught the eye. Lar- der now regards King as his form centre ahead of the likes of the England international Nick Pink- ney and the club captain, Simon Irving.

The losers of the Featherstone versus Huddersfield clash this evening are in danger of falling off the pace set by Keighley and Salford. That would be particularly serious for Huddersfield, whose coach, Darryl Van de Velde, has invested heavily in senior players like Garry Schofield and Greg Mackey in a bid for instant promotion.

Widnes, who pocketed pounds 120,000 from the sale of Stuart Spruce to Bradford this week and play at Batley this evening, could turn out to be better placed.

Two points further back, Hull can yet be the dark horse. Although the concept of a merger with their neighbours Hull Kingston Rovers to produce a Super League side is gaining credence, there is a lobby at The Boulevard which believes they can make it on their own. But they must win virtually all their remaining games, starting with today's against Rochdale.

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