Noble feels fall-out of betting bans

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The Independent Online

Rugby league cannot be accused of going easy on offenders against its by-laws whom the authorities would like to have in the Great Britain side later this year. Two players who would have been automatic selections in the Great Britain side to play Australia and New Zealand in the inaugural Tri-Nations tournament this autumn were virtually ruled out of it this week by being suspended for betting against their own club.

Rugby league cannot be accused of going easy on offenders against its by-laws whom the authorities would like to have in the Great Britain side later this year. Two players who would have been automatic selections in the Great Britain side to play Australia and New Zealand in the inaugural Tri-Nations tournament this autumn were virtually ruled out of it this week by being suspended for betting against their own club.

Sean Long and Martin Gleeson won £900 apiece backing Bradford to beat what they knew in advance to be a weakened St Helens side on Easter Monday. That wager has now cost them more than £9,000 each in fines and costs. More damaging for them, for their club and for their country is that Long has been banned for three months and Gleeson, who unlike him played in the controversial match, for four.

In theory, both could still play in the international series at the end of the season. Long's suspension expires immediately before the last game of the regular season - at Odsal, wouldn't you just know? - so he could play in that and then in the play-offs.

Gleeson's longer ban means that his domestic season is over, although he will be free of suspension for the Tri-Nations. It is inconceivable, however, that the Great Britain coach, Brian Noble, would throw him into that level of competition after he had not played for four months. Long, who like Gleeson has been outstanding in his position all season, is also most unlikely to be involved.

Noble would have had little choice but to pick him on his current form; now he had better start looking at alternative scrum-halves. He will start at his own club, with Paul Deacon, a player of a very different type who will be in the Bulls' side against Huddersfield this evening.

While Long was playing so well, it looked as though it could be a contest between Leeds's Danny McGuire and Richard Horne, who plays for Hull against London at Leicester this afternoon, to play alongside him. The option now is that they could both be in the side, possibly with McGuire's Rhinos team-mate Rob Burrow on the bench.

If anything, Gleeson's absence from the centres creates a bigger headache. With Gary Connolly admitting that his international days are over, Gleeson was in line to reclaim his place alongside Keith Senior. Now Noble will have to look elsewhere, and there is a shortage of real quality in the position. His salvation could be Wakefield's Gareth Ellis; he has played loose forward and stand-off for much of this season, but, wherever he plays, he looks Test standard.

The unavailability of two fine, if foolish, players creates problems, but it would have been far worse to have fudged the issue to which their actions gave rise.

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