RUGBY LEAGUE: Hanley weighing up Long's odds for tilt at Grand Final

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The Independent Online
THE ST Helens coach, Ellery Hanley, must decide tomorrow whether to risk the country's leading scrum-half, Sean Long, in the Super League qualifying play-off collision with Bradford at Odsal Stadium.

With the winner going straight into Super League's Grand Final at Old Trafford, the temptation to throw Long - who is confident that he has recovered from his sprung shoulder - into the fray is obvious. But, win or lose, Saints have another game, either the Grand Final or a sudden death encounter next week, and Hanley might opt to hold him back.

That would mean Tommy Martyn and Paul Sculthorpe continuing to play out of position at a ground where Saints have never won in Super League, and where no visitor has emerged victorious in more than 12 months. Nobody will be more anxious to make an impact than Sean Hoppe and Des Clark, both playing for contracts for next season, or Sonny Nickle, back at his former club, but it looks a demanding assignment.

Bradford are refreshed after a two-week rest - their reward for finishing top of the table - and, apart from Mike Forshaw, have a clean bill of health. Their coach, Matthew Elliott, will be just as cagey about his team selection, with the main questions revolving around who will start at scrum-half and on the wings. "Everybody's looking at me and waiting for me to tell them," he said.

One thing he is sure about is that the week off is a major advantage for the league leaders, a view echoed by his captain, Robbie Paul: "We worked so hard for first place that it felt a bit unnatural not playing last week. But it means that we're fresh and ready to go."

Before that match, this evening at Headingley, Dewsbury and Hunslet will vie for the honour of winning the Northern Ford Premiership and with it the opportunity to apply for membership of the Super League next season. However, serious doubts surround the ability of both finalists to meet the necessary criteria.

Dewsbury, league leaders after the regular season, are favourites and their coach, Neil Kelly, is adamant that he should be allowed to emulate his brother, Andy, who took Wakefield Trinity up last year.

"Andy's told me that after you win the Grand Final, the real battle begins," Kelly said. "But he showed that it can be done and I don't want someone who I've never met putting a cap on my ambitions."

Dewsbury demolished Widnes on their way to the Grand Final with a magnificent kicking game, but Kelly said that their tactics could be very different on the wide open spaces of Headingley.

There is another family link in tonight's match, with Steve Pryce, the cousin of Bradford's Leon, playing in the front row of a Hunslet pack that has been their major strength this season.

Brad Mackay, who is to join Bradford next season, will play his last game for St George-Illawarra in the Australian Grand Final tomorrow. The Test loose forward has shown in the play-offs that he still has much to offer, but the man Melbourne will worry about the most will be Anthony Mundine, who scored a hat-trick to help eliminate the favourites, Cronulla, last weekend.

Salford City Reds have signed Graham Holroyd, the former Leeds half-back, from Halifax Blue Sox.

Holroyd, the goal-kicking former Great Britain Under-21 international, has agreed a 12-month contract with Salford, who narrowly avoided relegation from Super League this season.

The Salford chief executive, David Tarry, said: "Graham is an outstanding player who has been a prolific points scorer at both Leeds and Halifax. He will make a big impact at our club and there will be more signings to follow."

Holroyd, 23, is set to replace the club's out-of-contract England stand- off Steve Blakeley, who is thought to have agreed a deal to join bottom club Huddersfield, as long as they avoid relegation to the Northern Ford Premiership.

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