Newlove knee injury ends call-up chance

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Great Britain's hopes of calling up the St Helens Test centre Paul Newlove as a possible replacement for Jon Roper on their South Seas tour have been dashed by injury.

Warrington's Roper may be forced to return home with a knee injury sustained in the opening tour match in Papua New Guinea last Wednesday, but Newlove, the Super League's leading try-scorer this summer and the most expensive player in the world at pounds 500,000, underwent a knee clean-up operation yesterday.

St Helens' chief executive, David Howes, said: "Paul is also suffering from a hamstring injury and will not be fit until the Christmas double- header against Wigan."

Newlove is the second St Helens player to undergo surgery in a week following the forward Ian Pickavance, who has had a groin operation. He had originally been ruled out of the tour party with a hamstring injury sustained in the Premiership final defeat by Wigan at Old Trafford and he also has an enduring foot problem.

Roper will be given until the end of the week before making any final decision. The Great Britain coach, Phil Larder, said: "We have not ruled Jonathan out yet and the first priority is to be fair to him. But it's not looking too good. It looks as if he would not be available for three or four weeks and that would put him out of the tour. Whether we send for a replacement would depend on the RFL [Rugby Football League] and also who is available."

Salford's Academy captain, Nathan McAvoy, is an obvious candidate to replace Roper who has damaged medial knee ligaments.

n Rugby league's "big two", St Helens and Wigan, yesterday confirmed plans to stage a special winter challenge to be played over two legs on Boxing Day and New Year's Day. The double header - with the aggregate winner collecting a five-figure cash prize and a special trophy - could generate around pounds 200,000. The first leg will be staged at Wigan's Central Park.

n Oldham Bears have, as expected, signed an agreement with Oldham Athletic to play their Super League games and cup ties next season at Boundary Park after the demolition of the Watersheddings. Oldham Council is considering three options for the future - a new stadium for use by both clubs at Westwood Park; the development of Boundary Park for permanent use by both clubs; or the building of a new rugby-only stadium.