Bradford face legal fight with Leeds over Harris

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The Independent Online

Bradford have unveiled Iestyn Harris as a born-again rugby league player, but have immediately run into trouble with his former club, Leeds, who claim he is contracted to them.

Harris left the Rhinos for a rugby union career with Cardiff and Wales in 2001, but returned to his roots yesterday when he agreed a four-and-a-half-year deal with the Bulls. But the path back into his original code might not be straightforward, with Leeds insisting that the contract under which they released him also provided for his registration to revert to them. Harris will not be able to play, the Rugby League said last night, until they have ruled on the matter.

The Leeds chief executive, Gary Hetherington, described himself as "angry and disappointed'', and accused Harris of reneging on his deal with the club. "We are also disappointed with the conduct of the Bradford Bulls,'' Hetherington said.

"They have negotiated a deal with Iestyn in the full knowledge that he was contracted to us and they have consistently denied any contact with Iestyn during the process.''

Hetherington said that the matter was in the hands of the club's lawyers and there must be a possibility they will try to take out an injunction to prevent Harris playing for Bradford.

The gathering controversy did not entirely overshadow the jubilation at the return of one of league's most talented players.

"It's great news,'' said the Bradford and Great Britain coach, Brian Noble. "He will add a lot to our team.''

Noble said he would not be pitching Harris straight in at Castleford this Sunday, but he could well make his debut at home to Wakefield the following weekend, subject to the Rugby League's ruling.

Harris said he was excited at the prospect of playing league again. "Playing union for Wales was something special,'' he said. "I just felt that the week-to-week intensity of Super League was what I was missing. I learnt different skills playing union so, if I can pull those together with the skills I had in league, I hope to get back up to standard.''

Harris, 28, has set himself the target of adding to his seven Great Britain caps. He has never played in a side that has beaten Australia or New Zealand. "And that is something I would like to put right,'' he said.

For Bradford, his role will be to strengthen their defence of their Super League title by slotting in at stand-off and supplying the midfield guile they have sometimes lacked this season.

Before he can do that, however, the question of whose player he is must be resolved. The Rugby League confirmed yesterday that it had received contracts from both Leeds and Bradford, and that its lawyers were on the case.

For Chris Caisley, the Bradford chairman, the issue is a simple one. "The player wanted to play for us and I'm not aware of any other contract,'' he said.