Saints' sinner Eastmond has last chance to end career as a Cup hero


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The Independent Online

A few short months ago, it seemed that the lasting memory Kyle Eastmond would take away from rugby league was the bitter one of being jeered by his own St Helens fans.

Now, subject to what happens in a series of big matches, starting with today's Challenge Cup semi-final against Wigan, he has the opportunity to go out as a hero. Saints have known since early in the season that Eastmond will be playing rugby union for Bath next year.

"I thought I was doing the right thing by the club, letting them know early," he says. "Unfortunately, it didn't turn out like that."

Bothered by an ankle injury Eastmond turned in a couple of lacklustre performances after he had announced that he was going. A section of the crowd that used to adore the cheek and flair with which he played the game concluded that he was not trying and turned sharply against him. The nadir in their relationship came in the home defeat by Harlequins, when he was booed and abused by Saints supporters as he lined up behind his try-line.

He responded with a less than friendly gesture and ran off down the tunnel on his own at full-time. "That's the one regret I have about it," he says of his reaction. "I shouldn't have done that. It was an emotional thing, but it was childish. It was something I had to go through. Maybe it helped me grow up."

Injuries have rarely left Royce Simmons' squad alone for very long this season, however, so once Eastmond was fit and applying himself in training, recalling him became an option. "I've no idea whether I've won the fans over again," he says. "It's not something I think about. I'm just glad to be back in the team and playing."

One thing he does not regret, however, is his choice to switch codes. "Obviously, it was a tough decision – I've been here 11 years – but playing rugby union is something I really want to do.

"Having said that, Bath have left me to get on with it for the rest of this season. I've been able to concentrate 100 per cent on my rugby league."

In rugby league terms, there is not much more to come from Eastmond. "It doesn't come much bigger than this – Wigan in a semi-final," he says. As a way to bow out, only Wembley or a Grand Final could beat it."

Challenge Cup Semi-Finals

Wigan v St Helens

Today, kick-off 4.30pm, BBC 2

Castleford v Leeds

Tomorrow kick-off 3.15pm, BBC 2