Rugby League: Gateshead set to sign local talent

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GATESHEAD'S FIRST English signing could be a young Geordie from their under-19 team that has been competing in the Academy competition. The new Super League club's chief executive, Shane Richardson, admits that it has been difficult to recruit British players because of the hefty transfer fees involved.

"We are well down the road with several English players, but it could be that this local kid will be the first we are in a position to announce," said Richardson, who wants to keep the name of the outstanding local prospect under wraps.

The same applies to the name the team will carry, despite leaks suggesting that they will be known as Gateshead Thunder.

All 16 players signed by the new franchise so far have been Australians, although the latest of them, the former Parramatta full-back, Steve Collins, is based in this county, where he has been playing for Featherstone Rovers.

The former Australian Test scrum-half, Mark Murray, is the latest to be linked with coaching the London Broncos, although the club remains adamant that Tony Currie's job is safe.

Bradford have released the New Zealander, Tahi Reihana, to make room on their overseas quota for new arrivals next season.

Reihana, a prop forward who was previously with the Perth Reds, was a regular in the Bulls' Super League-winning side last year, but started only eight games this season.

Bradford have offered a new contract to another of their imported forwards, Jeremy Donougher, who showed signs of a return to his best form towards the end of the campaign, but he might opt to return to Australia.

The club is bringing in Nick Zisti and Michael Withers, two centres from Australia, for next season and have also agreed terms with Wayne Richards, the Newcastle Knights forward currently serving a ban for drug use.

New Zealand, who arrive later this month for a three-Test series against Great Britain, have the chance to inflict a rare series defeat on Australia in the deciding match at North Harbour in Auckland tomorrow.

The British referee, Russell Smith, heavily criticised by both sides after the match in Brisbane last week, has been given a vote of confidence by his boss back home. The referees' director, Geoff Berry, said that the attacks on Smith had been pre-emptive strikes with this deciding Test in mind.

"It's a tactic of southern hemisphere countries, going back to what Bob Fulton always tried to do with Australia," he said. "Now New Zealand seem to be doing the same thing and we will have to watch out for that over here.

"Russell's preparation for that match was not what he would have wanted, especially with his late flight and losing his luggage. I'm confident that Russell, as the excellent official he is, will bounce back.

"He's too good a referee to have two bad games on the trot."

The Kiwis will cover for the loss of their captain and full-back, Matthew Ridge, who announced his retirement from international rugby after seriously injuring his arm in Brisbane, by moving Richard Barnett and drafting in Darryl Halligan as their new winger and goal-kicker.

The St Helens' forward Ian Pickavance has been ruled out of Sunday's Grand Final eliminator against Leeds Rhinos. The 30-year-old former Swinton player needed a cartilage operation after the final league match of the season against Sheffield Eagles three weeks ago.