Mathers returns from Australia to join Wigan

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The Independent Online

Richie Mathers is the latest British player to leave his Australian club ahead of schedule, in order to become the first signing by the new regime at Wigan.

The former Leeds and England full-back has been released by the Gold Coast Titans midway through a two-year contract, after a first season marred by a serious knee injury.

"We knew he was homesick but we hoped he might come through it," said the club's chief executive, Michael Searle. "It was hard not to accept his request."

Mathers should be fit after an operation by the end of February and will be a natural replacement for Chris Ashton, who has switched to rugby union with Northampton.

"The signing is our first and involves a young British player with great attitude who wants to play for Wigan," said the club's new chairman, Ian Lenagan.

Hull have signed the New Zealand Warriors and former Sydney City utility back, Todd Byrne, on a two-year deal, but are still chasing the Test forward, Willie Mason.

The Great Britain captain, Jamie Peacock, hopes to play in the third Test against New Zealand on Saturday.

His coach, Tony Smith, has hinted at resting senior players with the series won, but Peacock has insisted on being on the field at Wigan.

"I want to pick up that trophy with some muck and sweat on me, not in a suit," he said.

The organisers of next year's World Cup say that Britain's performances against the Kiwis have given the tournament a boost.

"Great Britain have been outstanding and they have great young players coming through," said the director of the tournament, Colin Love.

The executive chairman of the Rugby League, Richard Lewis, has also defended the complex structure of the 10-team competition. "It's easy to overstretch yourself, but this format really plays to rugby league's strengths," he said.

Lebanon's 41-year-old coach, Darren Maroon, could be forced to make a playing comeback in the qualifier against Wales on Friday.

The Cedars have sent home three injured players and have another seven under treatment.