Rugby League: Atcheson no longer has to grin and Bear it

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The Independent Online
Two weeks ago, Great Britain's new full-back had no club and an uncertain future. Now, he tells Dave Hadfield, he is ready for the worst the Australians can throw at him at Old Trafford tomorrow.

The sun has suddenly come out on what had threatened to be a cold, dark winter for Paul Atcheson. One of the potential casualties of the grizzly end that befell the Oldham Bears, the 24-year-old full-back did not know what the future held for him. But now he has a highly- desirable move to St Helens and tomorrow he becomes Great Britain's full- back.

Things have certainly looked up, but Atcheson knows that the transition from redundancy at relegated and liquidated Oldham to forming Britain's last line of defence against the mighty Australians is a demanding one.

Atcheson, however, has learnt resilience during his career. There was, for instance, the day when the then Wigan chairman, Jack Robinson, called him into his office and told him he was not going to be offered a new contract, even though he had become the club's regular full-back following his signing from Widnes.

"I can still picture the office on that day. I had no choice about leaving Wigan; I was pushed," he says.

Pushed to Oldham, in fact, which did not seem too bad until this year, when the mismanagement and lack of depth in the playing staff at the club saw them lose everything.

"I'm still owed a fair bit of money, but everything is working out now," he says. "I'm very happy with the move to St Helens."

On top of that, Atcheson now has a chance at full Test level. Although he had performed well in a hopeless cause at Oldham and played regularly for Wales he was at the back of a queue headed by Bradford's Stuart Spruce when it came to Great Britain's full-back job.

But Spruce's ankle injury will keep him out of the series and the Great Britain - and former Oldham - coach, Andy Goodway, has decided that, at Old Trafford, he needs the attacking threat of Jason Robinson on the right wing, rather than in the full-back role he filled at Wembley.

Goodway knows Atcheson's qualities well: "He has the right capabilities and the right attitude. He brings size, strength and speed to the side. We are putting players in at the deep end - and we will see what they can do."

Atcheson is not even considering the possibility that he might not be up to the challenge. "I don't miss many tackles and I've got plenty of height underneath the high ball."

Spending all but the last few minutes on the bench, Atcheson was ideally placed to observe what was going wrong at Wembley. To his eye, it all came down to basics. "They were too quick for us at the play-the-ball," he says of the Australians. "They were making 50 or 60 yards with every set of tackles and you can't win if they're doing that all the time. The first job is to stop them making those easy yards."

If that job is not done, Atcheson knows full well that he could face a busy afternoon.

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