Anderson basks in Indian autumn after fresh start

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The Independent Online

He is also, since his move to St Helens, just about the most effective prop in the game. Anderson, who plays against his first professional club, Leeds, in tonight's Super League play-off, is enjoying not just an Indian summer but an Indian autumn as well.

This wasn't in the script. When Saints announced his signing last winter, internet message boards were full of fans bemoaning their lack of ambition. After all, Anderson was already 33, had been used as a short-burst substitute by Bradford and looked suspiciously makeshift.

"People were saying that I was just going there to see my career out," he recalls. "I saw it as the next step and now I'm enjoying it far too much to think about packing it in."

One reason for that enjoyment has been that Anderson has been asked to play a different role at Saints. It is conventional wisdom now that rugby league is a 17-man game, but a life lived on the bench can rot the soul.

At Knowsley Road, he has started almost every game this season and has relished the opportunity. "I owe Ian Millward a lot for giving me that chance and I think even he was surprised at the impact I had on the team," he says.

Millward departed amid Saints' mid-season dramas, but Daniel Anderson, a very different coach in many respects, has continued to use Paul Anderson in much the same way.

Both coaches have given him licence to use an aspect of his game that was rarely seen during his days as a battering-ram at Bradford - his ability to off-load the ball in tight situations: "It's just a case of being asked to do that sort of thing a bit more. Because of the style of rugby Saints play, it's almost demanded of you."

Anderson's reward for his form - apart from another year's contract at Saints - has been a place in the Super League Dream Team, selected on performances throughout the season, ahead of players such as the current Test props, Bradford's Stuart Fielden and tonight's opponent Ryan Bailey of Leeds.

"It's something you dream about," he says appropriately. "I've never been in before and I've got in this time ahead of some good front-rowers. It's because I'm part of a good side and I've been given a new challenge to which I've responded."

There is another selection that he would welcome with open arms. Anderson has been a regular on the Great Britain bench, but was not included in the 40-man training squad for this autumn's Tri-Nations.

"I've not retired. I'm still available if Brian Noble chooses to give me a call. I haven't had that call yet, but I haven't given up hope. Sometimes a team picked in May might not be the same as one picked in October."

Despite the advancing years, Anderson believes he still has plenty to offer. Ironically, one of the reasons for that is his dreadful luck with injury and illness early in his career.

"I was at Halifax from 1993 to 1997 and I played 21 games, so that's not taking a great deal out of your body."

Injury has taken a good deal out of Saints' team to play the Rhinos tonight, with potential match-winners such as Sean Long, Paul Sculthorpe and Darren Albert all missing.

"We'll play with the cards we're dealt," says Anderson, a player who has turned out to have a couple of unsuspected aces up his sleeve.