Rugby league: Brother's tribute to a Saint

Challenge Cup final: Bradford bank on an awkward customer as holders let loose Hammond. Dave Hadfield reports
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Win or lose at Wembley next Saturday, Karle Hammond has found out that there are more important things than a game of rugby.

The St Helens loose-forward will be giving it his all, but his performance in the final - and the rest of his career - are, in an unstated way, dedicated to the memory of his younger brother, who died at Christmas.

"He went to bed on Christmas Eve and just never made it to morning," he says of 19-year-old Jamie, who, despite being confined to a wheelchair, was very much a part of his career. "He was always at the matches, right from me starting out with Widnes Tigers. He came all the way to Australia to see me play in the reserves at Eastern Suburbs."

Hammond took time away from the game after his brother's death, but never seriously considered giving up. "I knew that the main thing Jamie would have wanted would be for me to carry on playing. When we played Wigan in the cup and we were down to 12 men, it was as if there was a 13th man with us. It was as though Jamie was pushing us from the outside."

Hammond admits that the loss of his brother has put everything into perspective. His year, since he played stand-off in last year's final, has, however, been unforgettable for other reasons. A belated call-up for Great Britain's Pacific tour saw him emerge as arguably the most consistent player on the trip, winning his first Test caps in New Zealand. It matters little to him now that the Lions lost the matches that counted.

"For me, it was a matter of pride every time I pulled that jersey on. I'd been a late selection and I knew I had a lot to prove, but that has been the story of my career."

It was a story he had to learn early when at 18 his first professional club, Widnes, tried to trade him off to lowly Leigh. He told them he would rather stay and fight for his place and, when he did move, it was to join the impressive St Helens squad.

There was also some scepticism when Saints moved him to loose-forward, a position he had never played, but the change was the making of him. Like his hero, Wally Lewis, he believes in making the ball do the work, which makes him a throwback to the great loose-forwards of the past.

"We went through a phase of power players in that role, but I think it's a matter of using the grey matter in your head. Anyone can just run the ball up and take the easy option, but my game is putting people through gaps," Hammond said.

No one has benefited more than Alan Hunte, the centre who has already lost count of the tries he has scored from Hammond's passes this season. This creativity will be vital at Wembley. For 80 minutes Hammond will focus entirely on that role, to the exclusion of what will always be the year's main significance. Jamie would not have wanted it any other way.