Blanch gamble pays off with Super League deal

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The Independent Online

The former Penrith Panthers lower-grade player scored four tries in six appearances after arriving to stake his claim, culminating in an impressive display in the National League One Grand Final victory over Whitehaven on Sunday.

Blanch, who has a British passport and does not count on the club's overseas quota, has now returned to Australia to get married. The 22-year-old will return to Castleford to take up a two-year contract as they try to survive in the top flight.

Castleford have already re-signed five other players - Andrew Henderson, Waine Pryce, Aaron Smith, Byron Smith and Craig Huby - for next season, but they are still weighing up their options for their three permitted imported spots.

The Australian forward Steve Crouch was their one quota player this year, but they have also been negotiating with the Wests Tigers second-rower Mark O'Neill.

"Every agent in the game, in Britain and Australia, has probably been in touch since our promotion was confirmed," said a club spokesman. But the club's board has still not decided whether to ask Dave Woods to carry on as coach and will be reluctant to commit itself to new recruits until that decision is made.

Ashley Klein has completed a meteoric ascent of the refereeing ranks by being put in charge of this Saturday's Super League Grand Final between Leeds and Bradford.

The 26-year-old Australian established himself as a senior referee by combining his role as house-husband at his London home with long journeys to train and officiate in the north of England. He was named this week as the Super League Referee of the Year and is the youngest ever to take charge of a major final.

Wakefield's David Solomona is the one British-based player in the New Zealand side to play Australia in the opening match of the Tri-Nations in Sydney on Saturday.

The second-rower has been named as a substitute, alongside the previously uncapped David Faiumu of the North Queensland Cowboys. Two other little-known debutants, Melbourne's Jake Webster and Manu Vatuvei of the New Zealand Warriors, are the starting wingers in a side ravaged by injuries.

Australia have named two new caps, the Melbourne winger Matt King and the Cowboys' second-rower Luke O'Donnell, for the first of two matches in the southern hemisphere.

Les Catalans, the Perpignan-based club joining Super League next season, have confirmed that they will be based for 2006 at the city's rugby union ground, because their own stadium will not be upgraded in time.

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