Harris injury hits Lancashire's Origin hopes

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The Independent Online

Yorkshire and Lancashire have been hit by the respective withdrawals through injury of Karl Pratt and, more damagingly, Iestyn Harris from tonight's Origin Match at Headingley. The Leeds pair picked up injuries in the victory over London on Friday, Pratt to a shoulder and Harris to a hamstring. As the two have been ruled out by an independent medical, they would be available for Leeds's next match at home to Wigan on Friday, if they recover in time.

The versatile Pratt might only have been on the bench for Yorkshire. Harris, as the obvious Lancashire scrum-half, is a bigger loss, especially with Sean Long already sidelined.

That leaves Lancashire with a combination of Lee Briers and Paul Deacon at half-back. The St Helens forward, Tim Jonkers, is the extra man brought onto the bench, while another Leeds player, Francis Cummins, is added to the Yorkshire squad.

Lancashire's last win over Yorkshire was in 1980, before any member of tonight's teams at Headingley was playing, and it even fell before the careers of the two coaches. It is admittedly an event that has been something less than a hardy annual, and the reason it was allowed to die was that players ­ especially those of Lancashire ­ did not treat it as an important match.

Eyebrows were raised when Andy Gregory, out of the professional game for a couple of years, and Lee Crooks, battling against the odds at bankrupt York, were given the county jobs. "Someone said that the Lancashire players wouldn't recognise me," said Gregory. "But the lads haven't forgotten who I am and 100 per cent of them were glad to see me. They've all spoken about how important this match is."

The Origin Game, as it is now styled, is more significant than just another private grudge match spanning the Pennines. With Australia arriving in the autumn, it is as close as it can be to an official Test trial. A poor game would not cost Andy Farrell or Keith Senior his role against the Kangaroos, but an outstanding one could put a new name or two in the frame.

Despite the loss of Long and Harris, Lancashire look marginally the stronger side on paper. But that was true of several of the matches they lost in the 1980s; Yorkshire, under Peter Fox, had the knack of adding up to more than the sum of their parts and Crooks will try to tap into that same tradition.

One difference is that tonight's game will be played under a new substitution rule, with 12 changes allowed from a bench of five. That means that intriguing fringe selections like Leigh's Neil Turley and Hull's Paul King will all get a chance to show what they can do.

If they, and the more established players, need any individual inspiration, the creation of the Roy Powell Medal for the man of the match should provide it. The Great Britain forward, who died suddenly two and a half years ago, was a member of the last Yorkshire team in 1991 and, if his wholehearted approach to this fixture rubs off on his successors, tonight will see a compelling contest.

* The Rugby League has confirmed that it is investigating claims that the Keighley winger Max Tomlinson was racially abused by a Leigh opponent during last week's Trans-Pennine Cup final.

Yorkshire: Cardiss (Halifax); Pryce (Bradford), Walker (Leeds), Senior (Leeds), Hodgson (Wigan); Orr (Castleford), Smith (Hull); McDermott, Lowes, Fielden, Peacock, Radford, Gilmour (all Bradford). Substitutes: Maloney (Salford), Cummins (Leeds), King (Hull), Fleary (Leeds), Anderson (Bradford).

Lancashire: Radlinski (Wigan); Wellens (St Helens), Johnson (Wigan), Connolly (Wigan), Peters (London); Briers (Warrington), Deacon (Bradford); O'Connor (Wigan), Cunningham (St Helens), McDermott (Leeds), Joynt (St Helens), Sculthorpe (St Helens), Farrell (Wigan). Substitutes: Turley (Leigh), Jonkers (St Helens), Coley (Salford), Newton (Wigan), Sinfield (Leeds).