Rugby League: Britain's poor timing

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The Independent Online
IT will be hard to avoid regarding the Lancashire Cup final between St Helens and Wigan tomorrow as an accident waiting to happen rather than as a major occasion in its own right. The timing of a match involving more than half the Great Britain squad six days before the World Cup final at Wembley stands as a condemnation of the code's lack of foresight.

'It has taken soccer in this country a long time to realise that they have to clear the decks to give the national side the best chance,' said Wigan's Andy Platt, one of 11 World Cup players in action at Knowsley Road tomorrow. 'The Australians certainly wouldn't do anything like this. It isn't as if it's just a normal weekend match; it's the local derby to end all local derbies.'

The Great Britain coach, Malcolm Reilly, is bound to wince every time one of his squad goes down injured. He will also, however, be able to make some last- minute form assessments.

Wigan's Martin Dermott, for instance, starts as strong favourite for the hooking role at Wembley. But, says the St Helens coach, Mike McClennan, a strong game from Bernard Dwyer could still force a rethink. 'Dermott is probably that bit smarter with his passing, but Bernard's tackling would be great to have around when those big Australian forwards come charging through the middle,' he said.

Another who can make a salient point is Kelvin Skerrett, the Wigan prop who will be in direct opposition to Kevin Ward. Saints will be without Jonathan Neill and George Mann, who is to have a scan on his back tomorrow. The Wigan coach, John Monie, who was angry at how poorly his side trained on Thursday, has Steve Hampson and Joe Lydon back and, he hopes, Martin Offiah as well.

The awkwardness of this year's final can only bring forward the day when rugby league finally jettisons the county cups from an overcrowded fixture list.

There is already a groundswell of opinion that this season's will be the last of their kind. 'That would be a shame, because it would make it very hard for Yorkshire teams to get their hands on a trophy,' is the realistic assessment of the Wakefield Trinity coach, Dave Topliss.

Wakefield, without a win in the First Division this season, have fitness doubts over Billy Conway and Nigel Wright, while Phil Eden has flu. The presence of Mark Webster, Darren Fritz and Gary Price in the pack, however, gives Topliss what he regards as the strongest side he has fielded so far in a season disrupted by injury.

The game's third traditional county stages the last match of Australia's World Cup warm-up tomorrow, when they play Cumbria at Workington. Cumbria, aided by exiles like Les Holliday and Steve McCurrie from Widnes, will no doubt play above themselves, but cannot be expected to interfere unduly with Australia's smooth preparation for Wembley.

Brendon Tuuta, the Featherstone Rovers captain, had his appeal against a two-match ban for a high-tackle turned down yesterday. Instead the ban was increased to three matches.

Wally Gibson, Huddersfield's Australian centre, is joining Oldham for pounds 12,000.