Rugby League: Extra incentive for Salford's ex-Saints

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The Independent Online
If a Challenge Cup semi-final is always a landmark in a player's career, then this afternoon's between St Helens and Salford is extra special for several of its participants.

Salford have three players who began their careers at Saints and all have an important part to play at Wigan today.

Andy Platt, recovered from a hamstring injury, was a close-season signing via Auckland, calculated to give Andy Gregory's side the authority in the forwards that it was going to need in Super League, while Paul Forber, another well into his 30s, rightly claims to be playing the best rugby of his life.

Of the trio, it is the contribution of the scrum-half, Mark Lee, who is often underestimated. He came to The Willows as a hooker with just a handful of first-team appearances at Saints, was switched behind the scrum in an emergency and has thrived on his new role ever since.

"Coming to Salford is the best move I ever made," Lee said. "It's going to take a good side to beat Saints, but I don't think we're far off being a good side."

That view is hard to argue against, especially with John Cartwight and David Hulme fit to take their places in a full-strength side. Yet St Helens are deservedly favourites to go back to Wembley and retain the Cup they won last April.

Their coach, Shaun McRae, also has a full squad to pick from, apart from the suspended Bobbie Goulding, which gives him the luxury of starting with the influential Derek McVey on the bench after missing two matches with a cracked bone in his wrist.

The player who keeps him out of the starting line-up is Chris Morley, who grew up on Salford's terraces and would have signed for them if Saints had not come in at the last minute with a more tempting offer.

"I only live two minutes from the ground and still go to watch them when I can, because I've got a lot of mates down there," he said.

Halifax's new coach, John Pendlebury, has named an unchanged team for the visit of Sheffield Eagles tomorrow, while Wigan should have Jason Robinson back in action for the trip to Castleford.

Widnes will have a full house for their Plate semi-final against Hunslet at Naughton Park, which is in the throes of redevelopment. The two other sides within a match of playing in the Wembley curtain-raiser are Leigh and their visitors, Hull KR.

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