Harris' range of passing could be Bulls' most potent weapon

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The Independent Online

There is no love lost between Leeds and Bradford at board level, but the crossover among their players makes this a complex tapestry and, between them, they will find a new twist or two. It would almost qualify as a surprise if the tale did not eventually turn on a man with a foot in both camps.

Not only will Bradford's captain, Jamie Peacock, be crossing over to join the enemy next season, so will Leeds' Chris McKenna and Marcus Bai. It is two players who have already made the transition - although indirectly - who could have the biggest say, however.

Last year, Adrian Morley was at Old Trafford supporting his former Leeds team-mates against Bradford. Tonight, he will try to deny them their chance to retain the trophy.

Morley did not start his short stint at Bradford auspiciously, but he has gradually warmed to his task and, as he has shown in Australia, he is a big-game player, capable of turning in a dominant performance tonight.

Alongside him will be a player who has been a cause célèbre for the two clubs. Iestyn Harris came back from Welsh rugby union to join the Bulls, rather than the Rhinos, who argued - correctly, a court has ruled - that he should still have been their player.

This time last year, it was still far from certain that he was going to be worth the trouble, but this season a conscious change of approach has made him a pivotal figure in Bradford's strong finish to the season.

Harris has decided to stop worrying over the things he can no longer do and concentrate instead on those that he can. He was never the quickest of stand-offs, but at 29 he has lost that yard of deceptive acceleration that used to take him through defences.

By way of compensation, his range of passing, particularly to Bradford's ultra-dangerous left-wing combination of Shontayne Hape and Lesley Vainikolo is better than ever.

Harris, a thinking player if ever there was one, has decided where his strengths now lie. "The way we play at Bradford, there are a lot of potent weapons all over the field. Sometimes the job of the No 6 and No 7 is to release those weapons and we've done that well over the last few weeks. They just want the ball from us and that's what we give them," he said this week.

Leeds' Barrie McDermott says that he is happy that Harris, with whom he used to share a lift from Oldham to Leeds for training and matches, and Morley, another of his better friends in the game, will be on the field for his final club match.

"I would have loved them to be on the same side," he said. "Unfortunately, during a match you're not my mate unless you've got the same colour shirt on."

McDermott, left out of Leeds' 17 for their Challenge Cup final defeat by Hull in August - a decision by his coach, Tony Smith, that looked wrong at the time and still looks wrong now - has been told that he will play in this one.

He handled his disappointment at Cardiff with great dignity and, although he still has unfinished business with Ireland in the European Nations Cup, few will begrudge him his swan-song at club level tonight.

"A lot of better players than me have never had the chance to go out on a big occasion like this," he said. "I've no complaints at all. I've had some fantastic highs - days when I couldn't stop smiling. I've also had some harsh lessons, learned a lot and grown as a person."

With his sense of theatre, McDermott will know that many will relish a final confrontation between him and the Bradford prop, Stuart Fielden - a player with whom he gets on far better off the field than he does on it.

Apart from McDermott, McKenna and Bai, two more players - Mark Calderwood and Andrew Dunemann - are also playing their last games for Leeds and trying to draw inspiration from that while keeping the lid on any distracting excess of emotion.

Calderwood is one who seems particularly reluctant to leave. He is Super League's leading try-scorer this season and could be a key figure this evening, especially if Leeds follow last year's blueprint by kicking towards Vainikolo.

The others leaving Bradford are Leon Pryce, Lee Radford and, in all likelihood, Robbie Paul. Look for a potential match-winner in that lot and you might come up with Pryce, who has rarely played better for the Bulls than he has since rejecting their contract offer and signing with St Helens from next season onwards.

There are not many Bradford players, however, who have not been playing well recently. After a difficult first half of the season that had Brian Noble contemplating resignation, their recent run has given them a momentum that suggests that they could defy precedent by becoming the first team to win Super League after finishing in third place in the table.

This is the time when teams who have reached the Grand Final the long way, playing every weekend without a break as Bradford have had to, traditionally run out of steam. However, the team once known, in the mists of pre-Super League history, as the Steam Pigs do not have that look about them.

* New Zealand will try to break a 46-year drought today by beating Australia in Sydney for the first time since 1959 in the opening match of the Tri-Nations. The one British-based player in the Kiwi side, Wakefield's David Solomona, appears for the first time since 2002 and admits that he thought his international career was over.

* The former Wigan coach, John Monie, takes charge of France for the first time today in their match against Russia in the European Nations Cup. That competition continues tomorrow, when Wales play Scotland.

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