Mackay feeling benefits of faith

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Brad Mackay, the former Australian Test player, who is enjoying a new lease of life with the Bradford Bulls, the Challenge Cup finalists, puts his sparkling form down to his discovery of religion.

The 31-year-old loose forward, who will be a key figure in Saturday's Murrayfield match with the holders, Leeds Rhinos, successfully combines the rough, tough world of rugby league with his faith as a born-again Christian. "It's helped because it's made me calmer and more disciplined on the field," he said. "It's taken away a lot of the pressure and put life into perspective.

"I go out there relaxed. It's made me a better player because I don't go out there every week thinking that my whole life is at stake if I don't win."

Jason Robinson (Wigan) and Apollo Perelini (St Helens) are other high-profile born-again Christians and Mackay believes he could put together a useful World XIII of converts. "In addition to Jason and Apollo, there's Jason Stevens of Cronulla and Test winger Mat Rogers," he said. "We would have a really good side."

Mackay, nicknamed "Rughead" because of his curly locks, was in the St George Illawarra side beaten by Melbourne in last September's NRL Grand Final in Sydney, and has the chance to follow in the footsteps of his fellow believers and become a Challenge Cup winner. Robinson was in the victorious Wigan team of 1993 and 1995 while Perelini played in Saints' back-to-back wins in 1996 and 1997.

"I played 13 years in the Australian league but this game is right up there with the big games," said Mackay. "It ranks right up there with the Grand Finals I've played in. It's been on our minds ever since we beat Warrington in the semis and it can't come fast enough for us.

"This is like the Grand Final, it's is one of the two competitions that are up for grabs and we really want to win this for the supporters. They deserve it. It's going to be electric with 68,000 people there."

Mackay, who made 12 appearances for Australia during an outstanding career with Illawarra and St George, will be up against his former team-mate David Barnhill, the Leeds second rower. Although the Rhinos are rank outsiders, having won just one of their opening six Super League games, Mackay is warning his team-mates to be on their guard.

"We're comfortable being the favourites," he said. "We deserve it because we're on top of the table. But it means nothing when you're out there and making tackles and you're under pressure. Leeds haven't gone so well this year but they're going to be very difficult to play because they're going to come out fiercely competitive.