Rugby League: Deacon presses his case

Hunslet still hesitant but youthful Bull is pushing for Pauls' position; Dave Hadfield finds out more about the newest England recruit
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YOU ARE a 19-year-old scrum-half, look about 15 and are just making your mark on the game, and your club unites the Paul brothers as potentially the most explosive half-back combination in the world of rugby league. It does not look like the most promising of situations, but Paul Deacon has made a virtue of necessity.

The Bradford Bulls' coach, Matthew Elliott, is a self- confessed exponent of ducks and drakes in team selection, so Deacon himself might not know yet what his involvement in this evening's match will be. "I never quite know until he tells me," Deacon said. But he has rarely been out of Elliott's 17 this season; often as the starting scrum-half, sometimes as the back-up on the bench, even sometimes - as he did against Leeds three weeks ago - coming on as a replacement hooker and saving the game.

Deacon made the decision early not to develop a complex about the Paul brothers. "I did think at first, when they signed Henry as well as Robbie, that there might not be much room for me," he admitted But, greatly helped by Elliott's faith in him, he did not take long to recover his self-confidence. "I still thought I had something to offer the side," he said. "Henry and Robbie are special talents. It's something they were born with. I wasn't born with exceptional pace or a great side-step, so I've had to work on other things."

For all his tender years, Deacon is much more the traditional English scrum-half, using a mixture of guile and craft to open up defences for others to capitalise. Originally from Wigan - which made his starring role in their defeat at Odsal earlier this season all the sweeter - he was signed by Oldham in one of their expansive phases and even managed a couple of Super League appearances for them before the Bears - as they were then - disappeared into the woods.

"It was still a good experience for me at Oldham. I'd always played in good teams as a junior in Wigan, but at Oldham, with so many new players in the Academy team, I had to take on more responsibility." A willingness to do that has been one of the factors that has stopped Deacon becoming submerged in a sea of Pauls. Even when he is the youngest and least experienced player on the field, he will be talking, cajoling, ordering others around.

"It's always been part of my game," he said - and a part that has already caught the eye of the international selectors. Part of Great Britain's squad to prepare for the Tri-Nations Series in Australasia - and he may yet be called up again if the injury situation among the senior scrum- halves does not improve - he has now been named as vice-captain for England's two matches against France next month. The England coach, John Kear, has identified him as a confident, opinionated operator who will have no qualms about telling players 10 years older what he wants them to do. It is an essential part of the scrum-half personality - and Deacon has it in abundance.

The Bulls rescued him from the wreckage of Oldham last year, and the way that Elliott has groomed and nurtured him has been an object lesson in how to foster a young talent. "He is really good at the personal development side of things and strong on individual coaching," Deacon said. His personal development, alongside that of two other young players who will feature today, Leon Pryce and Stuart Fielden, shows the rewards that can be reaped by investing time and expertise in top-quality raw material.