Rugby League: Fox on the run for a night on the tiles: Working man's scrum-half can raise the roof and ensure Northern delight against Wigan at Central Park this evening. Dave Hadfield reports

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The Independent Online
AT THE glamorous, title-winning end of the First Division, Deryck Fox was up at six o'clock on Wednesday morning, loading tiles on to lorries in a yard in Dewsbury. Eight hours earlier, Fox and his Bradford Northern team-mates had been celebrating a victory over Wigan that put them within sight of the championship. He has been too busy loading tiles since to worry about the difficulty of beating them again tonight.

It goes some way towards defining the difference between Wigan and Bradford Northern that while virtually all Wigan's first-teamers are full-time professionals, Wednesday morning found Fox loading tiles, Paul Dixon tending his sheep, Karl Fairbank his dairy herd, Roy Powell house-painting, and so on through the team.

'Quite a few of us still do a hard day's slog before training or playing,' Fox said. 'It can be a bit gruelling - especially after you've lost - but Peter (Fox, his namesake and coach) likes us to have another interest outside rugby.

'You can get too involved with it. It can work to your advantage to have another job. This week, I haven't had a chance to think about the second game against Wigan. That way you can't get nervous.'

Despite the quality of their victory at Odsal on Tuesday night, Bradford still have much to be nervous about in tonight's re-match.

'Wigan will throw everything but the kitchen sink at us. It will be hard, but we knew at the start of the week that it was going to be. Tuesday night has given us that extra lift, though. If we had lost then, it would have been very difficult for us to come back at Wigan. As it was, we could have won by more. Our defence was immaculate. It seems to take a big match like that to make us concentrate better and work harder. If we had played like that throughout the season, we would have won the championship by now.'

If Bradford do upset the odds by winning the title, Fox will have been at the heart of their unlikely triumph. The way in which he was signed from his only other professional club, Featherstone Rovers, early last season says much about Northern's status as a poorly supported, unfashionable club drawing upon all their ingenuity to try to compete with clubs like Wigan.

Bradford paid a then club record of pounds 140,000 for Fox, but had to raise it by selling debentures entitling contributors to stand seats for years ahead. Fox has not been so much bought as acquired on a mortgage.

However it was arranged, few would dispute that the scrum-half has been worth the investment. The other Fox, who coached him at Featherstone and now at Odsal, regards him as the best organiser in the game. That is only his second- best testimonial; the best is that forwards who have lined up with him in club or representative rugby invariably love playing with him. His close-kicking repertoire, full of sly deceptions and obscure angles, is one of the joys of the games.

If he has had a perceived fault, it has been the lack of a killing burst of speed. But even that looked an outdated criticism on Tuesday night when he outpaced the Wigan defence several times with breaks from inside his own territory.

Unlikely as it sounds, the 29-year- old appears to have found an extra gear. 'I spent the summer with the club's sprint coach, Ray Barrett, who used to be a national athletics coach,' Fox said. 'I always thought that if there was anything I would like it was an extra yard of pace and Ray has taught me that I was too tense when I was running. He told me that if I could relax I would go faster and also that it could take up to 12 months for the difference to show. He was right on both counts.'

Tonight brings Fox into conflict once more with Shaun Edwards, an opponent for club and county for most of their careers and the man at least partly responsible for Fox having started only one Test match since 1986.

'It's always been a case of people talking about Fox versus Edwards. It's not something I think about any more.' What Deryck Fox does think about now is the possibility of Bradford Northern ousting Edwards and company as First Division champions. 'For an unfashionable club like us to win the title would be a huge thing. To do it by beating Wigan twice in a week would make it extra special.'

There are no wagons to load on Saturday mornings. For the working man's club, a win at Central Park tonight would surely be the cue for a night on the tiles.

(Photograph omitted)

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