Batley's Storey prepares for emotional farewell

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The Independent Online

It will be the end of the road in more ways than one when Batley meet Sheffield in the National League One Qualifying Final at Mount Pleasant this afternoon.

The home side, who finished one off the bottom of NL1 this season, will slip down a division if they are beaten by the Eagles, who failed in their first bid for promotion when they lost a nail-biting NL2 Grand Final to Keighley last Sunday.

It will be an emotional occasion for Paul Storey, with more than two decades behind him at Batley as player and coach, who is standing down in favour of his assistant, Gary Thornton, after the match.

For his last game, Storey might have to send out an emergency call to the second-rower, David Rourke, who has missed the last three months whilst training to become a fireman, but who could be needed to reinforce the pack.

The Sheffield player-coach, Mark Aston, will be playing what he insists is his last match, after being primarily responsible for the rebirth of the Eagles.

It could also mark the final appearance of his team-mate in the 1998 Challenge Cup final victory, Dale Laughton, although he could be denied his swan-song by injury. "Dale wants to play, but I might have to question his fitness," Aston said. "It's such an important game that it might not be worth the risk."

Aston also has doubts about another front-rower, his captain, Jon Bruce, who missed the Keighley game with a groin injury and might not be ready in time to face Batley.

The Sheffield winger, Carl de Chenu, who was signed from the East Coast Eagles in the Irish domestic competition, is the least experienced player in the 20-man Ireland squad named by Daryl Powell for the European Nations Cup. There are 14 players from Super League clubs in the party, which will play Scotland and France in the group stages of the tournament.

Newly promoted Salford, who have Gavin Clinch and Karl Fitzpatrick in the Irish squad, have signed the former Wigan and London utility player, Andy Johnson, from Castleford on a two-year contract.

The Great Britain forward, Adrian Morley, has been voted player of the season at the Sydney Roosters.