King's big night a reminder of inner strength

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The Independent Online

One of the few undoubted successes of an unconvincing England victory over Wales at Wrexham in midweek was a player who, 18 months ago, was going nowhere.

Paul King, who was named in the 34-man Great Britain squad to prepare for the Ashes series two days later and plays for Hull against Huddersfield this afternoon, is one of those rare forwards who can play anywhere in the pack. But it has taken a major change of attitude to turn him into a player who could face Australia this autumn.

"He had some problems when he was younger," says Shane Richardson, the Hull chief executive who has presided over the transformation. "He was up on assault charges and, by his own admission, he used to drink too much. He has turned his life around over the last 18 months. He's done it through great mental toughness, which makes him a good role model at the club, because you can say to other young players 'You can do the same'."

In the broader context, Richardson believes that Tuesday was a night when the game as a whole turned itself around and cut across perceptions of it as a sport in decline. After all the speculation about players and clubs moving to union and the raft of withdrawals that threatened the credibility of the fixture, the players – particularly the Welsh players – saved the day, leading 23-10 at half-time before losing 42-33.

"Whenever the game is under pressure, the game saves itself on the pitch – because it's such a great game. We've already seen where the next generation of great players is coming from with the results that the Under-18s and Under-16s have had in Australasia. The Under-16s won in Queensland the other day and I spoke to friends of mine who were there and they said that their skill levels were just outstanding."

That is why Richardson, despite being at the forefront of the call for Super League clubs to commit their futures to league openly, is not fazed by the anxiety of some to have a foot in both camps.

Dave Whelan, the owner of Wigan, took a further step down that road yesterday by offering £500,000 to buy the shareholding of union club Orrell. Last week Whelan suggested that Wigan might turn to union unless the league salary cap were abolished. He softened that stance, but yesterday's news will stoke the controversy. "I've offered to purchase the shareholding to provide them with the resources to become successful again," said Whelan, who also owns the Second Division football club Wigan. "I want to make it clear that my support for Orrell in no way reduces my support for Wigan."

Richardson takes the broad view. "The game's real problem is one of leadership. The strategic plan that was presented to clubs this week is exciting, but it requires everyone to work together for the good of the game." If that happens, organisations as well as individuals can turn themselves around. The game needs to take a cue from its players.

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