Johns close to Warrington deal

Johns's agent, John Fordham, has been in England negotiating for the Newcastle Knights and Australia scrum-half to play a maximum of six matches for an English side. That side is understood to be Warrington, who are currently fourth in Super League and would see the addition of Johns, even on such a temporary basis, as a major boost for the play-offs.

"I had meetings on two occasions in London last week about Andrew having a part to play with a leading club when his Knights commitments are completed," said Fordham on his return to Sydney.

The plan would depend on the Knights and the ARL granting clearance. Newcastle's attitude could depend on the player committing himself to a new contract when he returns.

Wigan, London, Bradford and Hull denied that they are possible destinations, but Warrington would not comment. They are bank-rolled by the pop impresario Simon Moran, but would have to fit Johns within their salary cap and overseas quota. Johns has long wanted to play in Britain, and his partner is English.

Hull and Toulouse stand in the way of the two best sides in the country contesting next month's Challenge Cup final in Cardiff. Leeds and St Helens are first and second in Super League and favourites to contest the Grand Final in October as well.

Saints look to have by far the more difficult task today when they take on Hull, the last team to beat them, in May. Hull now have Richard Swain back after a broken arm and his battle at hooker with Keiron Cunningham should be a highlight.

The word from Hull is that there is a concentration on the Cup this season.

"The training seems to be stepped up in Cup week," said Paul Cooke, who with Paul King survives from the club's last semi-final, five years ago. Saints have much more experience.

"It's a bonus that our players have been in so many big games," said their captain, Paul Sculthorpe. "The guys know what is needed."

One thing Saints have not experienced under the coaching of Daniel Anderson is defeat, and Sculthorpe can see no reason why their run of success should end now.

"I don't see why it has to," he said. "If we concentrate week in, week out and get our game right there's no reason why we can't win each game."

Hull's coach John Kear, drawing on his Wembley triumph with Sheffield in 1998, will try to summon up the passion to ruin those confident calculations. Logic says that Saints are too strong, but Hull could overturn that, even without Chris Chester, who has a sternum injury.

It is harder to make out a case for Toulouse tomorrow, although predictions that Leeds will score a century are surely well over the top. They will meet a familiar face in Tommy Gallagher, a former player and now the cornerstone of the Toulouse pack.

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