Happy Gilmour starring in Britain's odd-job man role

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The Independent Online

He has not always been happy with the arrangement, but Lee Gilmour is content at the moment to be Great Britain's odd-job man.

Now settled in the all-conquering St Helens team as a highly effective left-sided second-rower, Gilmour has also covered his other position of centre from the Great Britain bench. In an emergency, such as Brian Carney's hamstring injury during the Sydney Test against Australia last week, he can play wing, sometimes to startling effect.

"I didn't mind," he says. "Obviously I prefer back row but I've no problems doing any job for my country or for Brian Noble.''

It is a change of heart for a player whose career has been one long search for a regular role. He was discovered for Wigan by the legendary Yorkshire-based scout Eric Hawley, whose other finds include Ellery Hanley and Jason Robinson, playing as a centre in his native Dewsbury.

"They signed me as a centre, but John Monie thought I was better suited to the back row and I had a fantastic first full season. I was in two major finals and played for my country. You can't have it much better than that. Sometimes I had to pinch myself," he recalled.

Gradually, Gilmour's stock began to fall at Wigan where he could not reproduce his 1998 form. He was in danger of becoming one of those players who wanted to play in the backs when he was picked in the forwards and in the forwards when picked in the backs.

"Wigan didn't seem to want to keep me and I was pretty upset about that. They were willing to release me and there didn't seem any point in sticking around," he said.

Bradford came in for him and he was a success there before again drifting to the periphery and being allowed to move on to Saints. "I just wanted to settle in a role and Ian Millward and later Daniel Anderson told me they wanted me for that left-sided second row position."

In an ideal world, Gilmour would like to play that same role for his country, but in international rugby league you take your chances where they come.

Saturday's return to the wing, where he played two Tests against New Zealand in 2002, provided him with the greatest moment of his career. It was on the hour, after a spell of sustained pressure during which Australia had scored one try and could have had another three, that Gilmour came in field on an angled run, took a reverse pass from Leon Pryce and found a gap between two of their most reliable defenders, Petero Civoniceva and Luke O'Donnell.

"I just came back inside past two or three defenders and caught one of their players leaving a bit of a gap. In fact, there was a big hole there and I just managed to get through it.''

Although it was a different type of try, it was as iconic a touchdown as the one that Mike Gregory scored from long range in 1988, the last time Great Britain won in Sydney, simply because it was the sort of try that Australian defences do not concede.

"It would be nice to look back on it in years to come and a great way to score my first Test try," Gilmour says. "There's always been belief within this side but to win like that against a great Australian team gives us extra belief."

Gilmour feels that a solid nucleus of his St Helens team-mates has helped give the team cohesion and he has not been surprised by the impact made by one of them who started Saturday's game on the bench alongside him, James Roby.

"He's so quick out of dummy half but if you get a quick play-the-ball he's bound to cause trouble. I thought he was great against the Kiwis and Australia."

Despite that win in Sydney, Gilmour says that the hardest part of the job could still be to come against the champions New Zealand here on Saturday. "I think they will come out all guns blazing. They are a proud nation and if they lose they are out of the tournament."

If the Kiwis do go out, the chances are that Gilmour will play a significant part in it. The precise nature of that part is no longer of as much concern to him. "I've no problem with anything I am asked to do for Brian and this team," he says.

Great Britain: Wellens (St Helens); Carney (Newcastle), Senior (Leeds), Yeaman (Hull), Raynor (Hull); Pryce (St Helens), Long (St Helens), Fielden (Wigan), Newton (Bradford), Peacock (capt, Leeds), Ellis (Leeds), Hock (Wigan), O'Loughlin (Wigan). Replacements (from): Roby (St Helens), Morley (Sydney Roosters), Gilmour (St Helens), Wilkin (St Helens), McGuire (Leeds).