Goulding the model motivator

RUGBY LEAGUE CENTENARY WORLD CUP FINAL: England's key player has to plot downfall of the best defence in the game; The old hell-raiser who leads the Saints has a vital role to play if Australia are to be dethroned. Dave Hadfield reports
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Bobbie Goulding has turned over more leaves than a force 10 gale blowing down an autumn lane. Rugby league's most frequently reformed player has even gone as far as changing what might be construed as a bad name.

He now insists that his first name should be rendered not as in Bobby Charlton, but as in Bobbie Gentry, whose Billy Joe McAllister jumped off the Tallahatchie Bridge. It is on the side of his sponsored car, so it must be right.

Goulding's crisis of identity has sometimes taken more serious forms. At an age where he should still have been settling into the game, he was already at his fourth club, his departure from one of his previous ones having involved a walk along the roof of his coach's car.

The other scrapes were numerous - and usually with a glass or two of beer implicated. Coaches used to blanch at the prospect of newcomers striking up a friendship with him. It has long been recognised that nobody would have put up with him in his younger days if he had not been such a gifted rugby player.

Now, of course, he is a changed person; a family man and captain of his current side at St Helens. The things that have remained unchanged are the talent and self-confidence. The latter is strong enough to have convinced him that, Shaun Edwards or no Shaun Edwards, he would be the scrum-half picked for last Saturday's semi-final against Wales and for the final against Australia today.

Now Edwards - the reason he left his first club, Wigan - is out of the equation and Goulding is pivotal to England's chances at Wembley this afternoon.

"I never had any doubts I was going to play," he says. "I'm sorry for Shaun, the way we all are, but with the form I've shown I didn't think there was any way Phil Larder could leave me out in any case. He has said all along that he would pick the players in form and he has stuck to it."

Goulding has happy memories of his last trip to Wembley, when he came on as a tactical substitute after Edwards' sending off and was instrumental in setting up Great Britain's win over Australia in the first Test last year. As he recognises, however, there is a difference between making a sudden impact in a fluid situation like that and exerting an influence for a full 80 minutes today.

In an ideal world, Larder would have liked to keep the Australians guessing about his scrum-half until this afternoon. All the signs are that they are, rightly or wrongly, more worried about facing Goulding than Edwards.

"I attack the line - and that's what they don't like," he says. "That's my game, running at the defence. If I can put a player through a gap, I will, but if I see one I can get through myself, I'll go for it."

Goulding does not kid himself that it is going to be easy, even against an Australian side missing most of the players he faced in last year's Test series. "They don't seem to me to be lacking very much at all," he says. "And they are very, very strong in defence."

There is a boyish optimism in Goulding's game, however - something that has survived all his ups and downs - which means that he will always try things and often make them work. Even he, though, believes that it will be more difficult today to make his party piece click in its usual way.

If there has ever been a rugby league move which has paid off with as much regularity as Goulding's cross-kick to his wingers, records of it have been lost in the mists of time

Such is Goulding's precision with that kick that he struggles to think of an instance where it has not yielded a try or, at worst, forced the opposition to put the ball dead for a drop-out which return's possession to his side. "But I think," he chuckles, "that the Australians are a bit too clued-up for it. I can't see them falling for it."

That probably means that he will try it in the first minute and that it will produce a try - that would be a very Goulding thing to do.

For all his scrapes and misadventures, it is impossible not to like Bobbie Goulding. There is an openness and - off the field at least - a lack of guile about him that is endlessly refreshing. His greater maturity saw him appointed captain at St Helens this season. He is undeniably calmer, less easy to wind-up, than he was earlier in his career - and that is something that could be an important factor today.

There is even a suggestion of the elder statesman about him off the field. A few weeks ago, the Australian, Julian O'Neill, an estwhile drinking companion and partner in crime from their wild times together at Widnes, arrived to play for London Broncos. Within days, he was gone, a casualty of a backlog of inebriated escapades.

"I wish he'd phoned me," Goulding said. "I could have sorted him out."

Scrum-half, social worker; England would settle for him sorting out a few other Australians this afternoon.