Rugby League: Florimo signals change of style

Henry Paul has been replaced at Wigan by a No 6 more in tune with his rugby league team-mates.
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The Independent Online
IT IS refreshing evidence of the continuing diversity of rugby league that Wigan's No 6 shirt this season will be worn by a player so different in style from his predecessor.

Greg Florimo, who makes his competitive debut for his new club in the most demanding of circumstances in the Silk Cut Challenge Cup tie at Leeds on Sunday, brings a wide range of qualities to the crucial role of stand- off. But he is not and never will be a Henry Paul, any more than Henry Paul is a Greg Florimo.

"Henry and I play very different styles," Florimo said. "Although I might lack some of his ability to ad lib, I'd like to think I bring some other strengths.

"I'm pretty direct. I like to take defences on and, apart from my running game, I think I can be a pretty good link man for the players outside me."

Or, as his new coach, John Monie, puts it: "We might lose a bit of the unpredictability that we had with Henry. The players around him will know more of what to expect from Greg."

At 31, Florimo is something close to the ultimate, hard-boiled Australian professional. That is why, when it came right down to making decisions on this year's budget, Monie preferred to have him on board, rather than the unorthodox Paul, who has signed instead for the Bradford Bulls.

The Wigan captain, Andy Farrell, has noticed the difference as well. In the couple of weeks since Florimo arrived, they have worked together on game plans and team structures, the sort of stuff that the mercurial New Zealander did not overly concern himself with that much.

The jury will be out for some time on whether the change will make Wigan a harder team to play against. But, starting with Sunday's showdown at Headingley, they will certainly be different. It will be different for Florimo as well. After 12 years with North Sydney, he is starting a new career with only his second professional club.

"It felt a bit odd to be putting on a different shirt," he said after his first outing with Wigan, in the friendly at Halifax last week. "But it appeals to me fantastically to be going from that into a game like the one against Leeds.

"The Challenge Cup is probably still the premier competition here, so I couldn't have a better start. It's obviously a difficult tie, but if we can win it we'll really think that we can go all the way to Wembley."

The prospects of them doing that, despite the challenge of a side that came so close to matching them last season, depend to a large extent on Florimo and another Norths player he has been partly responsible for bringing to the club.

Mark Reber, who flew in this week after finally sorting out his immigration paperwork, was a team-mate in Australia and Florimo warmly recommended him to Wigan when they were looking for the right player to complete this year's squad. "John talked to me about needing another player and asked me how Mark went. I told him that he's a great player, with excellent speed and great hands."

Reber's arrival will also ease Florimo's transition, although playing in England has been on his agenda since touring here and winning two of his four Test caps in 1994.

Like many Australians, the noise and atmosphere created by British crowds made an immediate impression on him, so going into a game like Sunday's is a rapid introduction to what he came here for.

And there is also a powerful Norths connection at work, with the Leeds coach, Graham Murray, due to take over at Florimo's old club next season.

"When you look at what he's done at Leeds, where he's lifted them from what had been a few flat years, then he's obviously got the credentials."

North Sydney, however, is history now for Florimo, whose credentials in a role filled in recent years at Wigan by the likes of Brett Kenny, Shaun Edwards and Frano Botica comes under serious scrutiny for the first time this weekend.

He warns the supporters not to expect too much, too soon. "Although I've played a lot of first grade in Sydney, I'm not coming here with the attitude that I know everything. Even at the tender age of 31, I'm expecting to learn as much from the players here as they learn from me."

The quality of those players around him has already impressed Florimo. "I can't get over Jason Robinson. His athleticism and power and ability to take defences apart are something really special.

"I don't think he is the only player here who would get into an Australian side. Andy Farrell and Gary Connolly are in that category as well.

"Playing with players like that makes it a lot easier for me to settle in."

Monie, for one, has always predicted that those players would greatly enjoy playing with Greg Florimo.

His ability to add an extra dimension to the side will rarely be tested more acutely than this Sunday against Leeds, but Florimo is ready to show what he can contribute.