Dunemann primed for fitting farewell to Leeds farewell

Two players will leave their clubs after today's finale. Dave Hadfield meets an Australian leaving an adopted home to return Down Under and a man following his heart back to Headingley
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In 1999 he was a young half-back, disillusioned with life at South Sydney. "I wasn't enjoying playing, I wasn't enjoying anything and my manager set it up for me to go to St Helens." That deal fell through while he was in the air and, instead of Saints meeting him at the airport, the Halifax coach, Gary Mercer, was waiting.

Dunemann joined a club which had exceeded all expectations by finishing third in Super League the previous season. "But that was what got us into problems, because the players were on a cumulative bonus of about £3,000 a match."

Dunemann was a stand-out player at a club going down the tubes fast and, in 2002, there was talk of him joining Castleford. "Gary Hetherington at Leeds must have thought I might be available and he gave me a ring." It was a surprising signing because Leeds already had three of the finest home-grown midfield talents in Kevin Sinfield, Danny McGuire, Rob Burrow. Where did a journeyman Aussie dovetail with that lot? Just about everywhere. Apart from being left out of last season's Grand Final, Dunemann has been a fixture in a Rhinos team that has finally learned how to win things.

"It was tough to take last year, but I'd injured my groin in the semi-final and I probably wasn't right to play. I still felt I'd played my part and I was happy to see the guys win. When I first came here, the club wasn't achieving what it should have done. Turning that around has been a combination of the young blokes coming through and getting the imports right - not just going for the big names."

Dunemann himself hardly sounds as a big-name import. In fact, his name has caused enough confusion for him to have appeared memorably in print as Andrew Sand Dune Man. He has, however, been highly influential, often providing the steadying fulcrum at half-back around which the likes of Sinfield, McGuire and Burrow can revolve.

Perhaps his biggest contribution has been in playing an unfamiliar role for much of this season. When the Rhinos hooker Matt Diskin pulled his knee apart playing for Great Britain last autumn, Leeds scoured the world for a replacement. When they failed to find one, the coach, Tony Smith, told Dunemann that he would do the job this year. "At least I had the whole winter to get used to the idea."

So well did he get used to it that Leeds got through Diskin's absence with barely a hiccup. Dunemann is a player who, in normal circumstances, they would like to keep on board, but he has to go home. His father Wayne is "doing it tough" on the Gold Coast. "He's in a nursing home and he isn't going to get any better. He's had Parkinson's disease and now he's suffering from dementia." It is one of Dunemann's great regrets that his dad has been unaware of his playing career, or that of his elder brother Ian, who is still playing in Australia.

"I said at the start of the year that I would have to go home. It's not so much that I can do anything for my dad as needing to see how the rest of the family's coping. It's been easy for me over here, but I haven't seen him for two years."

Dunemann is keeping his options open until he sees the lie of the land at home. If he feels he can come back to Britain, then Salford are confident that he will play for them next season.

"But I've had three and a half years with Leeds and I've enjoyed every minute. It will be good to finish in a match like this but I ... want to take it as just another match, which is hard to do but easy to say."

Peacock out to end on a high before crossing the west Yorkshire divide

It was when he woke up on a floor 12,000 miles from home that Jamie Peacock decided he had better get his rugby league career back on course.

Peacock will end a triumphant Bradford career by leading the side in the Super League Grand Final today against Leeds, the team he will join next season. It is a career that almost petered out before it started.

He has become such a by-word for achievement and consistency at Odsal that it comes as a surprise to recall his false starts there. In 1998, he was sent out on loan twice - to Featherstone and, more imaginatively, to Woollongong in Australia - because his then coach, Matthew Elliott, did not believe he was making the required progress.

It does not sound like too severe a punishment, but Peacock recalls it as a difficult time. "A few things fell through for me out there, like my sponsor and the job I was supposed to have. I finished up sleeping on people's front-room floors. It made me realise I'd got a long way to go to make it in the game. It made me want to be a lot more professional, but I was still struggling to get into the Bradford team when I came back."

They hived him off to Featherstone and it was there, in an end-of-season tournament against French clubs, that he started to catch the eye. He played mainly as a substitute for the Bulls in 1999, but he was on his way.

Since then, Peacock has matured into the club's outstanding forward and a natural leader, but it was a series of accidents that took him there in the first place, because it was always at Headingley that his heart lay - despite being born, strictly speaking, in Bramley territory.

"I started going in the South Stand with my dad when I was five," he remembers. Leeds had tabs on him as a promising young player in his early teens, but then lost track of him when he temporarily lost interest. "I just fell out with the game when I was 15 or 16 and quit. When I started playing again, I had a couple of trial games at Wakefield and Bradford came in for me."

The Bulls have had wonderful value from Peacock, never more so than in 2003, when they did the double of Challenge Cup and Super League and he swept the board in the major individual awards.

When he looks back on his time with Bradford, though, it might be the struggles of this season that stand out as even more memorable. "It's been a different sort of season, but because it's been tougher it's probably made me a better and tougher player," he says.

His coach, Brian Noble, puts it this way: "When we've been poor, he's been great. When we've been average, he's been great. When we've been great, he's been great. He's been my Man of Steel by a mile, but I'm biased.

"One thing I remember is at Wakefield in July, in a match we lost. He chased back about 80 metres after the wing man and almost caught him. Those are the things that stick with you."

Noble has made him not just Bradford but also Great Britain captain. It is a double appointment which raised some eyebrows, because Peacock does not fit all the preconceptions of what a captain should be.

He would make no claims to be the side's principal tactician, although team-mates talk in glowing terms about his deep reserves of common sense as well as his ability to lead by example. He also has a reputation for being somewhat tongue-tied, although he has talked sensibly and willingly whenever required. He improved noticeably in this interview when he removed his ill-fitting front dentures.

What people have wanted to talk about for the last few months, of course, is the delicate position of being a Bradford player destined for Leeds next season. Movement between the two clubs is not unusual, but the prospect of their captain deserting them for the Rhinos has been particularly hard for some Bradford fans to stomach - hence the occasional outbreak of booing and the odd "Judas" banner in the aftermath of his decision.

Peacock has stuck to his explanation that he could not resist a new challenge with his home-town club, although there is a theory that he felt slightly under-appreciated by the Bradford board, but it was still an agonising decision.

"I had a lot of sleepless nights, but since the decision was made I've felt a lot better about it. Most people can accept it; some can't and they're entitled to their opinion. A lot of people, though, have come up to me and thanked me for my commitment. To be honest, it's been so tough at Bradford this season that all my focus has been on that."

Peacock recalls standing behind the posts as Bradford went down 66-14 to St Helens in July as his lowest point with the club, with any thoughts of a Grand Final impossibly distant.

The Bulls lost two more and drew with Widnes in the month that followed, before going on the 13 match winning run that has brought them to Old Trafford today.

"It's going to be so special for me and the other players who are leaving. There have been times when we thought it wasn't going to happen for us this year - and it's so hard to win it from third place."

It would also be a fitting farewell from a player who has thrived on doing things the hard way.