Robbie Paul returns this afternoon to the ground where he spent much of his winter, and hopes to find it as he left it.
The Bradford Bulls captain, who played for Harlequins during the close season, is back at The Stoop for the Silk Cut Challenge Cup fifth-round tie against London Broncos, who now share the ground. Paul, a dazzling top-of-the-ground runner who won the Lance Todd Trophy last April by scoring the first hat-trick in a Wembley final, hopes reports of The Stoop's deterioration since he left have been exaggerated.
If it is a mud heap, London can be expected to try to turn the tie of the round into a forward battle, although the Bulls coach, Matthew Elliott, will not willingly co-operate. "When you've got backs like ours, you don't want them standing around with their hands on their hips."
Those backs include the most significant signing of Bradford's winter, the experienced Australian Danny Peacock, who will play in the centres. He was man of the match with two tries at Hunslet in the last round. The Bulls also include two players signed too late for last year's final, Stuart Spruce and Steve McNamara, though Spruce is doubtful after a chest infection.
Another Australian, Graeme Bradley, believes Bradford are far better placed than at this stage last year, when they were still in a state of transition. That is ominous for London, who this week had the publicity boost of Richard Branson taking a 15 per cent shareholding in the club.
Of more immediate importance today will be how well their new Australian recruits fill the void left by some significant departures. The former Wests and Illawarra scrum-half Josh White has a tougher act to follow than most as Broncos had a choice between two contrasting exponents of that role last year in Kevin Langer and Leo Dynevor. He could not face a more elusive opponent than Paul, who, he points out, was never on the losing side when he started a match for the Quins at The Stoop.
For all the pack mentality that they are expected to adopt, London have strength in their back-line. If they can leave out Greg Barwick in favour of a centre partnership of Paul Smith, just arrived from Sydney City, and David Krause, it says much for the options available to them.
The pick of tomorrow's games are at Salford, where Paris are the unpredictable visitors, and at Warrington, where Iestyn Harris will make his first-team return against Sheffield Eagles. Harris, embroiled in a long dispute with the club, came through a reserve team outing on Thursday, scoring a try and setting one up with what John Dorahy called "a typical piece of magic". He is likely to start on the bench, with Martin Dermot making his Warrington debut at hooker.Reuse content