Champions have familiar look for title defence

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The Independent Online

The contrast could not be more stark when Leeds begin the defence of their title in the only Super League match of the weekend at home to Hull KR tonight.

The Rhinos might have a new coach in Brian McClennan, but they will field the same side that won last year's Grand Final, thanks to Ryan Bailey, who missed the game against South Sydney in Florida, recovering from a groin strain.

Rovers, on the other hand, will give competitive debuts to as many as eight newcomers, including the former Leeds centre, Chev Walker. Walker, back from an unhappy stint in rugby union with Bath, has recovered from a hamstring strain and said: "I can't wait to get the ball back in my hands again. It doesn't matter that it's Leeds, I'm just glad to be back doing what I know."

With their American adventure and the World Club Challenge at the end of the month, Leeds have a lot on their plate, which could present an opportunity to their visitors. "There's never a good time to play them, but some times are better," said Rovers' coach, Justin Morgan. "Playing them early means we are both starting from scratch."

Morgan is without the suspended Paul Cooke, but has notable debutants in the Kiwi international, Jake Webster, and the forwards, Clint Newton, Garret Crossman and Ben Galea.

Paul Sculthorpe has made a depressing start to the new season by being ruled out of his own testimonial. The former Great Britain captain has been withdrawn from today's match between St Helens and Wakefield because he has not recovered from an Achilles tendon injury that ended his 2007 season early.

Saints' coach, Daniel Anderson, said that Sculthorpe was back in training. "I require more team sessions before I consider him," he said. "It's a risk I'm not willing to take, because it's more important that Scully plays consecutive Super League games."

The pick of tomorrow's Northern Rail Cup games is at Rochdale, where Salford play their first competitive match since their relegation from Super League. It will be a reunion for the two coaches, as Rochdale's Bobbie Goulding was Shaun McRae's captain when St Helens won the Challenge Cup in 1996.

Wigan's Eamon O'Carroll has been cleared of allegations of biting in the friendly against Widnes, whose Iain Morrison has been told he will face no further action over alleged punching in the same incident.

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