Whitehaven on the brink of promotion

National League play-offs
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The Independent Online

Winning the League Leaders Trophy - their first silver-ware in 57 years as a profes- sional club - has not only given them a fortnight off, but also a home draw against their main promotion rivals. "That was great for the supporters, because they had never, ever experienced that before," said Whitehaven's coach, Steve McCormack. "But the first thing the players said when they got into the changing room was that it was just a step towards what we wanted to do this season.

"The two-week break works for us, because it closes the gap between being part-time or being full-time, like Cas. Both teams know a lot about each other, but home advantage is a factor."

Even though Whitehaven might have to play their early home games at Carlisle's Brunton Park, while their own Recreation Ground is being brought up to Super League standards, McCormack is convinced that the club should go into the élite competition if they eventually win the Grand Final.

"As far as we're concerned, anyone who wins it deserves the right to go up. We've worked for it. If it means meeting their requirements, so be it," said McCormack, who has had chances to move elsewhere during the three full seasons he has spent travelling the M6 to and from his Wigan home. "It's been flattering to be linked with three or four jobs, but I'd like to think that I've shown a bit of loyalty to Whitehaven. They've shown loyalty to me, and they brought me back into the game after Salford sacked me."

Castleford, relegated from Super League last season, sent for reinforcements last week. Their former player and caretaker-coach Adrian Vowles flew in from Australia and trained with his old club for the first time on Thursday.

Vowles is now 34, and has been playing for the Burleigh Bears in the Queensland Cup - roughly equivalent to NL1 - but the Cas coach, David Woods, denies that it is a panic measure and says that he might not even pick him. "He might be coming all this way for nothing," he said. "There are no guarantees."