Harris move could open floodgates

Click to follow
The Independent Online

On a weekend when league again dips its toes into union territory, the surprising thing is that all the speculation about individual players decamping in that same direction has amounted to so little in terms of actual movement.

Jason Robinson has been gorging himself on the easy meat of lax defences on the early stages of the Lions' tour of Australia. In that country, the Kangaroo wing-men, Wendell Sailor and Mat Rogers, are to shift their allegiance to the Australian Rugby Union at the end of this season. The latest suggestion is that the National Rugby League's leading try-scorer, Nathan Blacklock, disappointed at not making the New South Wales team, might follow.

After that, it is all ifs and maybes. Keiron Cunningham was popularly supposed to have played his last game for St Helens in the Challenge Cup final at Twickenham, but seven weeks later someone looking very much like him is still doing all manner of damage to Super League defences.

Down at the Rugby Football League, if not at Bradford, they had privately given up hope of retaining Leon Pryce, but he now says that he is more than happy to stay. His team-mate Henry Paul is still weighing his options, but the whisper is that he would play league in Australia for less money than he could command from the Rugby Football Union.

Agents with a foot in each camp will continue to peddle reports of rugby union interest to and about their clients and only a player with an under-developed sense of his own value would say that he would never accept more money for doing something less physically demanding. But it is hardly a stampede across the divide, more a hesitant shuffle.

The moment when that picture will change is when and if Iestyn Harris makes his get-away from Leeds to play for Cardiff and Wales. That is not a done deal, despite it beingwritten up as such; Leeds still have him on 30 months' worth of contract ­ which he was happy to sign 18 months ago ­ and he cannot become a rugby union player until they say so.

"The WRU have never gone away," says the Leeds chief executive, Gary Hetherington. "But our position has been completely consistent. We are not encouraging any offer or any discussion about an early release."

For all that, Leeds know that Harris might already be terminally unsettled and that if he really wants to go, they cannot make him play for them. In that case, painful as it would be, they would have to cash in their most prized asset, so that they at least have the funds with which to try to fill the void.

But for the Rhinos, Harris comes close to being irreplaceable; the evidence of that is there in the way they play without him. Robinson and Sailor are great wingers, but wingers can be replaced. The loss of the Leeds captain would be something qualitatively different, but it might be unavoidable.

Comments