Rugby League: Castleford court Regal solace

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WITH THE Stones Bitter Championship seemingly beyond them yet again, Castleford and their coach, Darryl Van de Velde, once more seek solace in knock-out competition at Valley Parade this afternoon.

Van de Velde is an import to the British game who has made no bones about the Championship being his priority, but Castleford's decline over the past couple of weeks means that he will return to Australia without winning that prize.

Although his plans after the end of this season have yet to be finalised, Van de Velde has job offers from the two new Queensland clubs which will enter Australia's Winfield Cup next year. Those are not the sort of jobs that come up very often and it looks inevitable that he will take one of them.

'I feel that after five years I will have given Castleford my best shot,' he said. That best shot has produced two Yorkshire Cups and a Wembley final, but, in the contest he really wanted to win, nothing but frustration.

Today's Regal Trophy semi-final against Bradford Northern thus has an extra significance for Van de Velde in that it comes immediately after a defeat at Leeds and a draw with Wakefield that ended Castleford's hopes in the league.

'Wigan and St Helens have got it sewn up between them,' he said. 'But a Regal final against Wigan at Elland Road would be a big occasion.'

On the face of it, Castleford have the measure of today's opponents, having beaten them twice in the league in November. But Northern have Deryck Fox, who missed the second of those games, back to transform their side. On the other hand, Mike Ford, who outplayed Fox in the first meeting, is also back after injury.

More fundamental even than the half-back duel may be the way Castleford have apparently entered the traditional cusp of their season - the mid-way point at which they always seem to change from contenders to also-rans (or sometimes vice-versa).

In the First Division, Wakefield have failed to sign Jonathan Davies in time to make his debut at home to Salford tomorrow. They describe themselves as in negotiation with the player and hope to make an announcement before Monday's Challenge Cup transfer deadline. Salford have made eight changes, four of them positional, after their thrashing by Widnes in midweek.

Stan Gittins, of Rochdale Hornets, has become the first coach to be dismissed in 1993, lasting little more than 24 hours after the defeat by the Second Division's bottom club, Swinton, before being sacked. The New Zealand international, Mike Kuiti, has been put in temporary charge of Hornets, who have been talking to Featherstone Rovers about a possible deal that would send Martin Hall, a target for Wigan earlier this week, to Yorkshire in exchange for Leo Casey.

There is disquiet in the corridors of the Rugby League's headquarters in Leeds as well. Nine of the 27 staff have been made redundant as an economy measure, including the controller of referees, Fred Lindop, and the marketing executive, Mike Turner.

Oldham's financial worries eased with yesterday's announcement of a profit of pounds 98,000 on last season, thanks to the sale of players and a training pitch. The club still owe pounds 783,000, but chairman Jim Quinn said: 'Although we face a stiff climb up a big hill, I feel sure we are getting there.'