Rugby League: Hanley out to open new phase book against France: Dave Hadfield reports from Carcassonne on the revival of one of rugby league's great competitors

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The Independent Online
THEY may be a little surprised at Carcassonne this afternoon to see the familiar figure wearing Great Britain's No 13 shirt.

They had reason to believe in France that the era of Ellery Hanley as an international player was over. The resurrection may be news to them, and to those in Australia who witnessed Hanley's aborted tour last summer, but it is no shock to those in the game who know him best.

John Monie, his coach at Wigan, was never one of those who subscribed to the view that selling him to Leeds for pounds 250,000 at the age of 30, as the club did 18 months ago, was a business coup.

'I'm not in the least surprised that he has regained his best form,' Monie said. 'He is playing the rugby that I always knew he would, once he was free of injury. A champion doesn't just stop being a champion.'

Dean Bell, who succeeded Hanley as Wigan's captain, agreed: 'When you play alongside a guy for seasons, you get to know what he's made of. There were plenty of people writing him off when he left Wigan, but I wasn't one of them.'

After a first season at Leeds interrupted by injury and dogged by reports of strife behind the scenes, Hanley is undeniably doing the business again at club level. Three weeks away from his 32nd birthday, he is playing as well as at almost any time in his career.

'It's a tribute to the dedication and determination of the man,' said Garry Schofield, whose replacement as Leeds captain by Hanley last season brought the club close to civil war and who is Hanley's captain against France this afternoon.

Defining the particular qualities that make Hanley one of the most effective players of his generation has long been superficially easy. Observers keep waiting for him to lose his speed, but exceptional pace was never truly a part of his armoury. Ferociously concentrated physical effort, in attack and defence, was the key element, and remains so.

Many of Hanley's 26 tries this season - a total that puts him well on the way to breaking the record by a forward in a single campaign - owe even more to the unexpected in his play.

Hanley has rediscovered the knack he had in his most prolific days at Wigan of supporting a move from in front of the play. After making a run himself, he will often hang around ahead of his team- mates, apparently irrelevant to anything that might happen later in the tackle count. Then the play will pull magnetically towards him and Hanley will hook around to join the move and, as often as not, score or make a try.

First Division defences have not been coping with the ploy very well this season and nor will France today. That in itself, however, is not an overwhelming reason to have him there, denying a younger player the experience of being part of the squad and keeping Phil Clarke out of his natural position of loose-forward.

The message is unmistakable. Great Britain do not need Hanley in France, but Malcolm Reilly, the coach, is maintaining an unbroken link with a player to whom he attributes almost supernatural qualities for the occasions when he believes he will need him - the home series against New Zealand this autumn and against Australia a year later.

There were undisguised celebrations among the media, with whom Hanley does not see eye to eye, when the Lions management finally admitted the embarrassing fact that Hanley was not fit for the tour and never had been. That surely would be the end of him.

The first clue to the champagne turning flat came when Hanley, still somewhat short of form and fitness, was selected for the World Cup final in October. An undistinguished game at Wembley was surely the last act. But back came Hanley for England against France - a match which screamed out as loudly as any could for experimentation.

Reilly's devotion to Hanley at least now has the justification of some vintage form. All the indications are that there will not only be a no-go area for the media at Headingley for the foreseeable future but in the corner of the Great Britain dressing-room as well.

FRANCE: Frison (Villefranche); Sirvent (St Gaudens), Chamorin (St Esteve), Fages (Pia), Garcia (St Esteve); Dumas (St Gaudens, capt), Demacedo; Buttignol (both Avignon), Cartier (St Esteve), Anast (St Gaudens), Attia (Cannes), Cabestany (Catalan), Amat (Lezignan). Substitutes: Despin (Villeneuve), Bomati (Catalan), Torreilles (Pia), Clarke (Cannes).

GREAT BRITAIN: Spruce; Devereux, Currier (all Widnes), Connolly, Hunte (both St Helens); Schofield (Leeds, capt), Edwards; Cowie (both Wigan), McCurrie (Widnes), Molloy (Leeds), Eyres (Widnes), Clarke (Wigan), Hanley (Leeds). Substitutes: Ford (Castleford), Joynt (St Helens), Bateman (Warrington), McNamara (Hull).

Referee: G Annesley (Sydney).

FRANCE: Frison (Villefranche); Sirvent (St Gaudens), Chamorin (St Esteve), Fages (Pia), Garcia (St Esteve); Dumas (St Gaudens, capt), Demacedo; Buttignol (both Avignon), Cartier (St Esteve), Anast (St Gaudens), Attia (Cannes), Cabestany (Catalan), Amat (Lezignan). Substitutes: Despin (Villeneuve), Bomati (Catalan), Torreilles (Pia), Clarke (Cannes).

GREAT BRITAIN: Spruce; Devereux, Currier (all Widnes), Connolly, Hunte (both St Helens); Schofield (Leeds, capt), Edwards; Cowie (both Wigan), McCurrie (Widnes), Molloy (Leeds), Eyres (Widnes), Clarke (Wigan), Hanley (Leeds). Substitutes: Ford (Castleford), Joynt (St Helens), Bateman (Warrington), McNamara (Hull).

Referee: G Annesley (Sydney).

(Photograph omitted)

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