Rugby League: Final charge for ageing Bulls

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THE PLAY-OFFS might start with Friday night rather than Saturday Night Fever, but for St Helens and Bradford this evening it really is a case of Staying Alive.

Super League adopted a Seventies' musical theme to launch the inaugural finals series this week and for several players on the losing side tonight these are The Last Days of Disco. Should Bradford suffer elimination, Graeme Bradley, Paul Medley and Abi Ekoku will have strutted their stuff for the last time.

Bradley says, philosophically, that an early end to the Bulls' stuttering attempts to retain their championship will allow him to "get on the drink earlier".

A player who has been such an inspiration to Bradford will not go quietly into his projected career in marketing, however, and his recent resurgence is one of the factors that has held the Bulls together during their run- in to fifth place.

Medley, whose prolific try-scoring from the pack leaves him just two short of a century for the club, is lined up for a job with Bradford's community programme, but the most intriguing future plans are those of Ekoku, the brother of the Wimbledon footballer Efan, who is retiring from the game at the age of 32 to resume his other career as a discus thrower and try to qualify for the Olympics.

For all three of them it is the last throw tonight, in a match that will be decided, if necessary, by 20 minutes' extra time and sudden death.

Saints also have their quota of players in the departure lounge. Damien Smith is returning to Australia after failing to set Knowsley Road alight, Brett Goldspink is off to Wigan and Karle Hammond has become a rare high- profile British signing for the London Broncos.

Ian Pickavance, who is also out of contract and linked with Huddersfield, may already have played his last match for St Helens, as he has had a cartilage operation, but Anthony Sullivan's foray into Welsh rugby union is only scheduled to be temporary.

It is Sullivan's form, with eight tries in his last two games outside the equally revitalised Paul Newlove, that sends Saints into these play- offs on a high. With Chris Joynt back after a hernia operation and also attacking down the left-hand side, there is a cutting edge that could maintain their involvement for at least another week.

Joynt, the St Helens second-row and captain, responded to rumours that Great Britain might use him at prop in the series against New Zealand this autumn by going 60 yards down the wing for a solo try against Sheffield last week.

Castleford have released the former Wigan hooker Richard Russell, their Australian forwards, Andrew Schick and Richard McKell, and the veteran scrum-half Mike Ford, who has been linked with a player-coaching role at Oldham.

The Castleford coach, Stuart Raper, has already signed his brother, the Australian international Aaron Raper, to replace Russell and other imports from his homeland should follow.