Gibbons steps into breach for Leeds

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The Independent Online
Rugby League

The embarrassing lack of a credible candidate to play in the crucial position of scrum-half is exposed in Leeds' first Championship line-up of the season tomorrow, with the 19-year-old David Gibbons drafted in.

Gibbons, who has played only one first-team game, replaces Marcus Vassilakopoulos - himself a temporarily converted forward - who has been suspended for one match after being sent off for tripping in the Charity Shield defeat by Wigan in Dublin last Sunday.

Leeds have had no experienced specialist in the position since releasing the French international, Patrick Entat.

A move for Mike Ford, the former Castleford scrum-half unsettled in the reserves at the South Queensland Crushers, now seems unlikely to come to fruition. But the new Leeds coaching team, Dean Bell and Hugh McGahan, will have to make a move into the market - unless Gibbons can make an instant impact.

Another young player in Leeds's team to play at Sheffield Eagles is the prop, Nick Fozzard, whose second-half performance in Dublin earns him a place ahead of Esene Faimalo, who is one of the four substitutes allowed for the first time this season.

Sheffield have left out their Great Britain hooker, Lee Jackson. He has not been seen since returning from an impressive close season stint with South Sydney and is due to return to Australia to play for Newcastle Knights in the New Year. Sheffield are treating him as though he has already left, preferring their new signing from Halifax, the Academy international hooker, John Lawless, against Leeds.

Andy Currier makes his first appearance for Warrington against the London Broncos, although in the unaccustomed role of wing. Another of Warrington's summer signings, the Welsh forward, Mark Jones, is on the bench. Ikram Butt, from Featherstone Rovers, and Shane Vincent, from Newcastle Knights, will make their debuts for London.

St Helens's newcomer, the former Hull back-row forward, Dean Busby, is among the substitutes against the renamed Bradford Bulls. Joey Hayes, a highly promising winger from the Academy team, plays his first senior game.

Paul Newlove is named in Bradford's side, despite his reported desire to follow his mentor, Peter Fox, in leaving the club. He is suffering from shin splints and could miss the match, but Bradford's new coach, the Australian Brian Smith, is anxious not to lose him.

"I know he has a great deal of respect for Peter Fox, but under a new coach he will learn new ideas," Smith said. "I don't want to lose him and I don't think we will. I honestly believe he is being manipulated by people outside the club."