Rugby League: Eagles wrestling with success

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The Independent Online
It does not take much to become Britain's guru of the week in the World Club Championship. One win, in fact - so we had better listen carefully to John Kear when he recommends a pre-match regime of group dynamics and wrestling.

Kear's Sheffield Eagles recorded Britain's only victory of the second round of the tournament last weekend, hanging on when all seemed lost and grabbing their late chance to beat Perth Reds. They are far from guaranteed to repeat the achievement against Hunter Mariners tonight, but they have already proved something about the power of positive thinking.

With a two week lead-up to the Perth game, Kear, who has coached Academy tours to Australia and New Zealand, treated his players very much like a squad on tour. "We did a lot of intensive skills work and also brought in a psychologist to work on their mental approach," he said, but his most startling innovation was his use of a Greek wrestling coach.

"We knew that one of the problems of playing against an Australian side was the speed with which they play the ball. With him, we devised techniques to slow them down."

Not only did that work, but it also worked without conceding many penalties, enabling Sheffield to gradually take the initiative as the game went on. No one was more instrumental in that than Marcus Vassilakopoulos - who, despite his name, is not an import from Greek grappling but a forward on loan from Leeds.

It was his tackle that ripped the ball out of Greg Fleming's grip for the winning try and then another that stopped Chris Ryan as he set off down the wing, threatening to snatch the game back for Perth. "It's a better feeling than playing at Wembley for Leeds," he said.

Vassilakopoulos, who came off the bench for his crucial cameo role last Sunday, will start at loose forward tonight, if Martin Wood fails to revover from a leg injury.

Kear will also shuffle the rest of his side. After the success of leaving two of his better players, Keith Senior and Johnny Lawless, on the bench for much of the first half, determined to show what they could do when they got on, both will start today's game. Senior will have the special job of marking Mariners' potentially destructive centre, Kevin Iro.

Sheffield's problem, as Kear concedes, is that Hunter Mariners are currently a team in better form and mood than Perth. Tonight will tell whether he and his side can wrestle more formidable opponents to the ground.