Larder looks to Roper and Hunte

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The Independent Online
The Great Britain coach, Phil Larder, is resigned to losing three of his leading players from the southern hemisphere tour that starts next month and will start the process of lining up replacements tomorrow.

The Wigan pair of Jason Robinson and Gary Connolly, plus Lee Jackson, who is now with the Newcastle Knights in Australia, are all under contract to the Australian Rugby League, which says it will not allow them to play.

"We are realistic about the prospect of losing them," Larder said. "It was always a possibility after the ARL persuaded Gary to withdraw from the Fiji Nines. They have had large sums of money from the ARL, and do not want to run the risk of losing them."

Although the League here has made defiant noises about the ARL's tactics, the players themselves are already making their own arrangements, with Connolly and Robinson negotiating close-season contracts with rugby union clubs.

The Great Britain management will discuss the situation tomorrow, but Larder will not make any decision on replacements until after the last Super League match of the season, between St Helens and Warrington next Monday.

That will give two members of his shadow squad the chance to impress, as Saints' Alan Hunte and Warrington's Jonathan Roper are both expected to play.

Another candidate as a stand-in for Robinson is Jason Critchley, from Larder's Keighley club, who scored six tries against Widnes on Sunday to underline his claims.

James Lowes of the Bradford Bulls is the favourite to take over from Jackson as one of the party's two specialist hookers.

The Conrad leisure group, which narrowly failed to take over Leeds United recently, has switched its attention to the city's rugby league club. The Leeds chairman, Denis Greenwood, said that talks had already taken place and that the club would welcome investment after a disastrous first season in Super League.

The chief executive of the Rugby League, Maurice Lindsay, has said union clubs are making a mistake by offering short-term contracts to league players.

"I am not keen to see our players go but if rugby union are silly enough to offer short-term contracts of pounds 100,000 for a handful of games to our star players it would perhaps be unfair of me to prevent them earning such relatively easy money.

"I do not think it will happen again next season. I cannot say that we are afraid of losing top stars to rugby union full-time as almost all of our best players are contracted until the end of the century.

"These contracts were sealed when the Australian Rugby League were over in 1995 trying to sign our players. In this respect, the ARL may have done us a favour."

Salford are complaining that, although the winners of the Stones Super League this weekend will receive pounds 60,000, there is no prize for the First Division title, which Salford won last weekend.

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