Graham faces flak

Rugby league
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The Independent Online
There will be no hiding place this afternoon for Nathan Graham, the Bradford Bulls' full-back whose seven minutes of disaster under three of Bobbie Goulding's up-and-unders settled last Saturday's Silk Cut Challenge Cup final as St Helens profited with three tries.

The Bulls' coach, Brian Smith, has not even considered leaving Graham out of the side for today's Super League meeting with Warrington at Odsal. "We expect that Warrington and everyone else over the next few weeks will put up the high balls," Smith said. "But that could be playing right into our hands."

Smith said that the 24-year-old former Dewsbury player has handled his instant notoriety well this week. "He has summed it up pretty well as one of those things that happens to players. Besides, it is quite unfair to blame him entirely for what happened at Wembley," he said.

"He made one obvious, glaring error in allowing the ball to bounce for the first of those three tries, but aside from that there wasn't much he could have done. He was entitled to some help from his team-mates and he didn't get it."

Smith is demonstrating his belief in him by putting him back into the firing line today. "I was at Wembley the day Gary Connolly had a horror under the high ball against Wigan in the 1989 final," he said. "I'm not saying that Nathan had a horror, but if you look at Connolly now it just shows how players can recover from these experiences."

Bradford's spirits have been lifted further this week by the messages that have flooded into Odsal. "There has been an unbelievable amount of mail from people recognising what we did in the final and telling us that we were unlucky to lose," Smith said. "It has come from all over the world - even from St Helens - and has been very uplifting."

What would be even more uplifting is a win today: the Bulls may have won a lot of praise, but they have lost their past three matches. Smith will reshuffle his pack to accommodate the Cup-tied James Lowes and Steve McNamara, but his Australian scrum-half, Glen Tomlinson, is still a week away from playing again after recovering from a broken bone in his leg.

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