Gregory looks forwards

Rugby league
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The Independent Online
Victory for Salford at Dewsbury this afternoon will make it all but mathematically certain that they will be the one team from the First Division to ascend to Super League status next season.

Keighley can retain a theoretical interest if they can manage to beat Wakefield Trinity today, but Salford have been so dominant in their division throughout the season that they have known for some weeks that they will finish as Champions and have been planning accordingly.

Under their coach, the formidable former international Andy Gregory, Salford have a clear idea of what will be needed in Super League and have been steadily working towards assembling a side that will be able to hold its own there.

Gregory could move one step closer to his projected Super League line- up this afternoon by giving a first-team debut to Jason Laurence, an Australian who he actually signed some time ago from York to replace the veteran Steve Hampson at full-back.

Laurence has had a six week wait for a new work permit, which arrived in time for him to play in the Alliance team on Friday and also, quite possibly, to slot in for the injured Hampson today.

The newcomer is very much in Gregory's preferred mould. Just like the three-quarter line, which has been built around the burgeoning potential of Nathan McAvoy and also the stand-off, Steve Blakeley, Laurence has pace to burn.

With that amount of speed outside him, a converted hooker like Mark Lee at scrum-half is not a liability. Gregory, who was arguably Britain's best scrum-half of the last 20 years, does not need another flyer there, but a general to set up play - something that Lee does admirably.

The real danger for any side promoted to Super League, however, is that they are likely to be chewed up in the forwards.

Gregory has already taken steps to counter that threat, by signing his former Wigan team-mate Andy Platt from the Auckland Warriors.

He also believes that he has the inside track for two of the best young forwards in the country - Widnes's Steve McCurrie and Steven Holgate of Workington - although he could face competition from Warrington and Wigan respectively.

What is certain is that Gregory - a notoriously "bad trainer" whose coaching credentials were widely questioned when he was appointed - has built an exceptional First Division side and one that will not be an embarrassment in the top flight.

The odds are strongly on Workington being the side that Salford replace, but they have already beaten this evening's opponents, Oldham, once this season and another win would at least put pressure on Paris St Germain immediately above them.

Workington have their captain, Rowland Phillips, available after he escaped suspension. Escaping relegation, however, will look beyond their scope if they cannot win today.

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