Rugby League: Crooks has to retire at 33

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One of the great playing careers of modern times has ended with Lee Crooks' announcement that he is retiring because of chronic knee problems.

Crooks, who will be 34 in September, will now concentrate on learning his trade as a coach at his club, Castleford, with a view to finding a first team job in the future.

"The decision was frustrating, considering the passion I still feel for the sport I have been involved in for so long," he said. "However, with the possibility of a permanent disability lingering in the near future, it was one I had to make."

Crooks' career began in 1980, with his home-town club, Hull, and he gained the first of his 19 Great Britain caps against the touring Australians in 1982.

The best young forward of his time, he has admitted to losing his way in mid-career, especially during an unhappy spell with Leeds, but he has matured into something of an elder statesman at Castleford.

His ball skills remain among the best in the game, but knee problems have plagued him over the last 18 months. An operation to remove a piece of floating bone six weeks ago was only a limited success and Crooks struggled through his last match, against Hunter Mariners, 10 days ago.

Crooks' career turns out to have ended with the World Club Championship, which goes into cold storage until mid-July following the last games on both sides of the globe yesterday. London Broncos became the latest side to come away empty-handed in Australia when they were beaten 34-18 at Canterbury, but they at least had the consolation of making a contest of it.

Unlucky to be 20-4 down after a scrappy first half, Broncos fought back with tries from Martin Offiah and Scott Roskell to trail by only eight points, but the Australians pulled away to win by a flattering margin.

"I think we showed that we've got a bit of pride in ourselves, compared to a lot of British sides," said Shaun Edwards, whose try near the end came too late to bring London back into contention. "It's going to be tough, but I believe we can put up a good show against the Australian sides on our own soil."

There were words of encouragement, too, from the Super League international board chairman, Maurice Lindsay. "Once the supporters in this country get over the disappointment following their own clubs' performances, they will see a fresh determination from everyone to match the Australian standards," he said.

"I also believe that some of our clubs will be determined to improve their performances during the second round of matches and I have not given up hope of a European club reaching the final stages."

No new date has yet been set for a Rugby League Council meeting cancelled tomorrow, which was meant to discuss far-reaching plans for the re- organisation of the game.