Rugby League: Gear change speeds up title race: Castleford miss Test-bound Kemp. Dave Hadfield reports

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The Independent Online
A BATTLE for the Stones Bitter Championship that, for the moment, looks more complex than for many years could be considerably clearer by Sunday evening.

A programme which has, co- incidentally, kept most of the top sides away from each other so far changes gear this weekend. Last night's meeting between Bradford and Wigan, called off after 13 minutes because of fog, is followed tomorrow by the clash of Warrington and Castleford.

Castleford are rueing the

absence of their stand-off, Tony Kemp, called up by New Zealand for the Test against France. Kemp has played the best rugby of his career since arriving at Wheldon Road last month and has been the key to unlocking the attacking potential of their back line.

Tony Smith will stand in, but he is a player of a very different stamp and Castleford's pattern of play could suffer as a result.

The Warrington coach, Brian Johnson, interrupts the exciting progress of young Iestyn Harris by bringing in Chris Rudd for his first match of the season.

Halifax should do the necessary against Wakefield Trinity, who will be without their captain, Dave Woods, suspended for one match after being sent off last week for a high tackle in the Regal Trophy defeat at Carlisle.

St Helens have a rather tougher assignment at Oldham, but the inspirational

broken-field running of George Mann - whose omission from the New Zeakland squad this autumn looks more and more bizarre and misguided - could carry them through.

Leeds should end a seven- match run without a win at the expense of the bottom club, but Leigh showed against Huddersfield last week that they are capable of better rugby than their position suggests.

Harvey Howard is in line to return for Widnes against Sheffield Eagles after ending his stay-away. A back injury to Rodney Howe creates a gap in the Chemics' pack that he could fill.

Andy Gregory plays his first game for Salford, after being signed from Leeds in midweek, at Hull KR and his new side will look to him to exert an immediate influence. Their player-coach, Garry Jack, solves the problem of what to do about Shaun Brown, who played too well at scrum-half against Leeds last week to be dropped, by moving him to stand-off.

It remains to be seen how capable of adapting Brown will be. 'Well,' says Gregory, who is eight years his senior, 'he's more capable of it than I am.' End of argument, but the start of what Salford hope will be a fruitful partnership.