Harris snubbed by Warrington and poised to be a Union man

Dave Hadfield on the young player who could change codes for pounds 1.3 5m
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The Independent Online
Rugby league has a nightmare. It keeps waking up in a sweat in the early hours and seeing its brightest and best trooping off to rugby union, in pursuit of the newly pumped-up bubble of easy money.

If there is a face in that nightmare, it is the youthful one of Iestyn Harris - and the prospect of losing his prodigious talent to a code he has never played in earnest moved a step closer yesterday.

Warrington announced that Harris, already transfer-listed at a dizzying pounds 1.35m, will not even be considered for the remaining games of the season.

It was an extraordinary step and one that sent the 20-year-old Harris hurrying to his solicitor for advice on his own next move, but one that fairly sums up the deteriorating atmosphere between club and player.

"I was completely taken aback when they told me about it," he said of Warrington's decision. "All I want to do is to play rugby. As far as I'm concerned, I'm fit, I want to play and I'm available for selection.''

Warrington do not see it being as simple as that. When Harris pulled out of Sunday's game at the London Broncos citing a knee injury, the reaction of the Warrington coach, John Dorahy, to questions concerning his actual state of health, was: "You'd better ask Jonathan Davies.''

Warrington believe that someone has taken Harris to the top of the mountain and showed him the shimmering, golden cities below and suspect that the someone is their former player, now back in league with the Welsh Rugby Union and the Cardiff club.

The trouble is that Warrington are dazzled as well; dazzled by the prospect of getting a million quid for a player they are not even convinced is the right answer for them at stand-off.

That is also one source of Harris's dissatisfaction. Although he will admit that he has things to learn, he not unreasonably sees himself as a specialist stand-off.

He is Britain's current International Player of the Year on the strength of his performances for Wales in that role and, just on the basis of his natural ability and glorious side-step, would be the Great Britain stand- off in just about anyone's current selection. It is hard, therefore, to see why Warrington harbour such doubts.

The criticism of Dorahy as Wigan coach three years ago was that he wanted to fix what was not broken. This looks suspiciously like the same impulse at work.

Harris's other grouse is that he wants to play rugby union in winter; not permanently or full-time, he insists, but only in the rugby league close-season.

On this point, it is more difficult - at least in theory - to pick holes in Warrington's approach.

Dorahy and the club's football executive, Alex Murphy, are firm in their view that the last thing a young player with 15 months continuous rugby behind him needs is a winter in union.

They also believe - along with St Helens and some other clubs, but unlike Wigan, who are happy for Va'aiga Tuigamala to guest at Wasps and Henry Paul at Bath - that it is none of their function to be making a rival code more attractive and saleable.

Logic is on their side, but there might have to be some compromise - such as an agreement to let him go out on loan next year - if they want to rebuild their bridges with Harris.

Compromise, however, now seems the last thing on their minds. Yesterday's terse statement from the club read: "After careful consideration, the club have decided that Iestyn Harris will not be included in the team for the remaining three matches of the Super League season.

"This decision was arrived at after taking into account the fact that Iestyn asked for a transfer, there are doubts over his fitness and we need to build a team to go forward without him.''

There is a depressing note of finality in there that the Welsh coach, Clive Griffiths, his Great Britain counterpart, Phil Larder, and a Super League administration watching the predations of newly wealthy rugby union clubs with increasing alarm, will all hope is illusory.