Rugby League: Bell sees the world past the Cowboys

Dave Hadfield talks to the Leeds coach who has won some job security
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The Independent Online
If Everything goes according to plan tonight and Leeds make progress in the World Club Championship, it will be further vindication for a coach who looked doomed a year ago.

Dean Bell endured a season during which it seemed a question not of whether he would be sacked, but of when. His prospects did not appear to have improved noticeably when the club was taken over during the winter by a new regime fronted by Gary Hetherington.

Bell, you sensed, was someone they had inherited, rather than the man they had chosen for the declared task of restoring the club's fortunes.

A year on, however, and Bell looks about as secure as you can be in his line of business. Leeds are running second in the Stones Super League when it resumes this weekend. The following Wednesday, they will - all being well against the North Queensland Cowboys this evening - play off against either Warrington or St Helens from Group A of the WCC for a place in the competition's quarter-finals.

It is not sacking form, but Bell takes little for granted. Only this week, rumours of a new coach coming to Headingley - John Monie is the name that will not quite disappear from the agenda - prompted Hetherington to give the incumbent the dreaded vote of confidence.

"It's probably a bit annoying," says Bell of the revived speculation. "But I take the view that the thing to do is just to get on with the job."

If the test of how well he is doing that job is in the improvement of individual players, then Bell should indeed be on solid ground. Although he is reluctant to pick out special cases, the development of the centre Phil Hassan into one of the form players in Britain and, before he broke his leg so badly last month, the emergence of Barrie McDermott as a prop forward of genuine quality have been sources of satisfaction.

McDermott, who will be out for the rest of the season, will attend a match for the first time since his injury tonight and Bell will welcome him into the changing rooms to give his team-mates a psychological boost before kick-off.

That is a boost Bell believes they could need. Although the Cowboys have little left to play for after blowing their chances at Oldham two weeks ago, he still regards them as dangerous.

"Any team coached by Tim Sheens is going to be tough," he says. "The only player they will have missing compared with last time they played us is John Lomax - and they beat us by 40 points. In fact, you could argue that we are the side that is weaker."

Apart from McDermott, Leeds have Francis Cummins still feeling his way back, Richie Blackmore not yet match fit and, perhaps most serious of all, Iestyn Harris facing a late fitness test today.

"We've got a chance of going through and you can't ask for any more than that," says Bell. "After two losses down under, we thought we'd just about blown it, but we raised our game against Adelaide and we'll have to do that again this time - because the Cowboys are a better side.

"Super League is still our priority and, although Bradford have effectively won it, we are still keen to finish as runners-up. The prospect of reaching the quarter-finals in the World Club Championship is another big carrot."

Either target would have seemed fanciful in the extreme a year ago - and that is the mark of the progress Leeds and Bell have made in those 12 months.