Six-month ban may cost Nickle his Saints future

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The Independent Online

St Helens' forward, Sonny Nickle, could have played his last match for the club after being suspended for six months for the tackle that broke the jaw of the Leeds hooker, Robbie Mears, last Friday.

Nickle was given the ban, one of the heaviest of recent times, after being found guilty of using the forearm to the head of an opponent. Saints are considering an appeal on behalf of a player who has recently rejected the offer of a new one-year contract and could be coming to the end of his time at Knowsley Road.

Saints' Australian forward, David Fairleigh, has already been ruled out with a shoulder injury, while Keiron Cunningham's hamstring will also keep him out. "We are running out of troops and you will probably see one or two new faces," said the club's coach, Ian Millward.

Wigan are also likely to be without two key men, due to Kris Radlinski's back injury and Brett Dallas's hamstring.

Saints' injury jinx also seems to be affecting players who have not yet joined them. Darren Albert, the Newcastle winger who is due to arrive next season, has broken his ankle, but Darren Britt, their recruit from Canterbury, has been cleared of a suspected broken arm.

Wakefield's teenaged prop, Keith Mason, has been suspended for two games for a dangerous throw in their match against Huddersfield last Saturday. The ban means that Mason will miss the game at Salford on Sunday, victory in which would make sure of survival in Super League, but Trinity have already lodged an appeal to be heard today.

Country will come before club during this autumn's Australia tour, the Rugby League has insisted. Bradford appeared to be heading for a confrontation with the game's governing body on Monday when the club announced they would be fielding a full strength team against the tourists on 28 October, just two days after Great Britain's only warm-up match, against France in Agen, and when the Great Britain squad will be in camp.

However, the RFL's director of rugby, Greg McCallum, said yesterday: "The way it came out was not the way it was meant to." McCallum says that the Great Britain coach, David Waite, will be able to take any Bradford players he wants to France, but will then release any he has not selected for the first Test, at Bolton on 3 November.