Rugby League: Down Under tour proves seconds best: Dave Hadfield with the Great Britain rugby league tour

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SPORTSMEN rarely react well to being told they are second best, but one group of Britons has become as successful a set of reserves as any.

While the Great Britain Test team, who played their final international in Auckland today, have had their ups and downs on the Australasian tour, the midweek shadows - ham 'n' eggers, dirt- trackers, or what you will - have maintained a perfect record.

The 17-6 win at Christchurch on Wednesday made it eight victories in as many starts, a stark contrast to some of the embarrassing defeats against modest opposition on recent tours. Far from being demoralised, as it is so easy to become on a long tour with no Test call to break the routine, the back- up players will return home with reputations enhanced.

That is certainly the case for Deryck Fox, the Featherstone Rovers scrum-half who was not even included in the original 32- man selection for the tour. Fox was brought in when Bobby Goulding of Leeds received a four-match suspension that would have ruled him out of the early stages of the tour. With all due respect to Goulding, that was a lucky accident for Great Britain.

Fox has been a great success in the difficult role of captain of the midweek side, providing them with a drive and organisation that has occasionally been absent from the first team. It was overdue recognition when he was finally included in the squad for today's Test, even though he was eventually forced to drop out with a leg injury.

Fox, after a decade of loyal service to the prototypical small-town club, has told Featherstone that he wants a transfer. 'They want to speak to me when I get back, but I think they realise that I'm determined to go,' he says.

On his form in the southern hemisphere, there are few British teams he would not improve: Widnes, Leeds and Halifax are three who will be watching developments with interest.

Another midweek success who could be on the move is Kevin Ellis. Despite never getting a run in his usual scrum-half position, Ellis has shown great enterprise and enthusiasm at stand-off. He is out of contract at Warrington; Widnes and Leeds have made discreet enquiries about his plans.

Ellis's former Bridgend team- mate John Devereux has had a very different type of tour. A strong second half of the domestic season took him away as a likely Test prospect, but his early form on tour was disastrous and his confidence suffered accordingly. Devereux, however, has battled back into contention with some forceful midweek performances and has earned a recall to the Test squad in New Zealand.

Graeme Hallas has been a surprise success on the tour, just as he was one of the more startling selections. Playing on the wing, rather than in his regular role of centre, he has shown pace and perception, which will have alerted clubs with more cash than his current employers, Hull Kingston Rovers.

Steve McNamara, a replacement who joined the squad in Australia, is another who has looked the part as Great Britain proved that there is, at last, some depth of talent in the country.