Leeds' limited agenda to exorcise ghosts of '96

Dave Hadfield looks forward to today's Challenge Cup semi-final at Huddersfield
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The Independent Online
Leeds are making no wild promises about the re-run of last year's Silk Cut Challenge Cup semi-final against Bradford; merely that they will put up a better show this time and that it will not wreck their season if they lose.

If that sounds like a limited agenda to be carrying into the match at Huddersfield today, then the pragmatic fact is that avoiding a repeat humiliation - far more profound than the 28-6 scoreline reveals - has to be Leeds' priority.

Leeds' season never recovered from the ease with which the Bulls trampled them underfoot last year.

"Both the players and the fans still bear the scars from that day," says Francis Cummins, one of only a handful of survivors from Leeds' last Wembley appearance, a mere two years ago.

Therein lies the source of Leeds' hope this time. Not only has the side changed radically in two years, it is almost unrecognisable from last March.

"That is why I don't attach any significance to last year," the Bradford coach, Matthew Elliott, says. "They have brought in a better quality of player and they will be a lot tougher."

It is a change of attitude, more than simply one of personnel, that can eventually transform Leeds from pretenders to contenders and there are those in and around Headingley who claim to have detected that change this year.

Certainly the club's administration under the new chief executive, Gary Hetherington, seems more single-minded and there is some much-needed organisation on the field from an influential Australian signing, the former St George hooker Wayne Collins.

Their coach, Dean Bell, has doubts today over the prodigiously talented second-rower Adrian Morley, with a knee injury, and the stand-off, Tony Kemp, with a dead-leg. Nick Fozzard and Graham Holroyd, who swung the game in Paris last week after coming on as a substitute, are the likely replacements.

The Bulls have just one major problem: the absence with a broken ankle of one of last year's destroyers-in-chief in the equivalent match - Jeremy Donougher.

It says much for Bradford's current strength in depth that there are at least four forwards - Warren Jowitt, Paul Medley, Simon Knox and Tahi Reihana - who could feasibly take the Australian's place in the second row. Alternatively, Elliott could shuffle his side to push Graeme Bradley into the forwards.

If anything, he has too many potential answers and, for all the toughening- up of Leeds' approach, the Bulls surely have a little too much all-round ability for last year's result to be reversed.

The important thing for Leeds - even more important than going to Wembley - is that they emerge with their pride unscathed.

They are capable, at the very least, of achieving that. "We know a lot more about what to expect from Bradford this year," Bell says. "Mind you, it can be a different matter stopping it. All I can promise is that we'll give them a much better game."

It is not an extravagant promise, but Leeds have been in the habit of making - and breaking - those in the past. If they keep this one, a packed McAlpine Stadium can see a memorable semi-final.

n The former Australian Test winger Willie Carne, who has switched to playing rugby union for Queensland, is set to join the London Broncos after his union commitments end in May.

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