Leeds and Wigan endure tough time

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The Independent Online

Two of the game's biggest clubs have suffered a week of upheavals remarkable in even their long histories.

Wigan and Leeds have had their ups and downs, but rarely anything like what has gone on over the last few days. Leeds, who played Hull last night, started the week as Super League leaders, but with storm clouds gathering. First there was the court case involving two of their players, Chev Walker and Ryan Bailey, who were sent to a young offenders' institution for 18 and nine months respectively for their part in a violent fracas outside a nightclub.

The Rhinos have said that they believe the sentences are harsh and that they will stand by the players, both of whom also leave gaps in David Waite's Great Britain squad.

By comparison with the relatively mild punishments handed out to other high-profile sportsmen, the sentences do indeed look severe, but the two have also been guilty of tarnishing the name of a sport which, however brutal it might be on the pitch, demands a high degree of discipline from its participants both on and off it.

Leeds do not plan to replace them in their first-team squad, which will put an additional strain on their resources during the run-in towards the play-offs. On top of that, those Leeds players who remain at liberty must be feeling rather confused about the coaching situation.

The official line is that Daryl Powell, who has guided them to the top of the table for most of this season, is happy to take a step back for two years and let Huddersfield's Tony Smith take over. Powell is supposed to return to his coaching duties from the newly created post of director of rugby in 2006, but the club's chief executive, Gary Hetherington, is guilty of understatement when he says that the arrangement is unconventional.

The same could be said of events at Wigan last week. The writing was on the wall for Stuart Raper as soon as the club's owner, Dave Whelan, came on to the field to deliver the pre-match talk for him and, sure enough, Raper announced that he was leaving at the end of the season.

Defeat by Widnes, however, was enough to change that timescale, and Raper was told that he was leaving with immediate effect. That gives an opportunity to his No 2, Mike Gregory, who has been put in charge, along with Denis Betts, until the end of the season - or until someone changes their mind.

Their first stab at the job is at Warrington this afternoon, and they have to feel that they are in with a chance of taking over permanently. Wigan being who they are, however, there is no shortage of rumours to the contrary, with some still insisting that the Cronulla and Australia coach, Chris Anderson, is on his way. If he is, he is on his way to a club, like a few others in Super League, with a very peculiar way of doing things at times.

The other club who have to learn to adjust to new circumstances are, of course, Huddersfield, who have shown such an improvement under Smith, but know, going into this evening's game against Bradford, that his time in charge is numbered.

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