Rugby League: Hull ready for another hard time

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JUST AS Peter Walsh predicted after their thrashing in their first match of the Super League season, it does not get any easier for Hull. Mangled at Wigan two weeks ago, they now face a Bradford side rampant after inflicting similar damage on Warrington last weekend, writes Dave Hadfield.

"It was a question of how Bradford were allowed to play," said Walsh, the Hull coach, of that ominous performance. "It was just like watching us play Wigan: absolutely inept."

It is one thing analysing short-comings and another putting them right. "The players had me believing that they could beat Wigan, the preparation was so good," Walsh said. "Then they go out there and miss 38 one-on-one tackles."

Walsh knows they will have to improve enormously tomorrow if he is to avoid another heavy defeat and further calls for his head. A man with a fine line in gallows humour, he joked at Wigan that the chant for him to be sacked was replacing "Old Faithful" as the Hull anthem. "But they aren't going to determine my future," he said. "I've answered a lot of letters and phone calls from supporters, but you've got to have some common sense. We're only one game into the season."

Walsh will be without Steve Holgate, who injured a shoulder at Wigan. The one bonus is that Karl Harrison should be fit, after struggling through at Central Park on pain-killing injections. For Bradford, Steve McNamara is fit again.

The game at The Boulevard is one of a series of intriguing contests tomorrow, but before that we will see how the London Broncos handle the prospect of their impending Challenge Cup semi-final when they play at Sheffield tonight. London have benefited from Martin Offiah's return to full fitness. His club record five tries against Whitehaven last week made him the leading scorer for the season so far, a throwback to a decade when he was the most dangerous man in the game.

The Broncos will be without their other winger, Rob Smyth, and forward, Darren Bradstreet, but Matt Crowther could make his first appearance in 10 months for Sheffield.

Tomorrow night sees Shaun McRae's return to St Helens, the club he coached to three major trophies in three seasons. His new club, Gateshead Thunder, are waiting anxiously for a fitness test on Kerrod Walters' groin strain today. If their captain is ruled out, Gateshead could become the first Super League side to field identical twins. Sean Allwood is in line to replace him at hooker, while Richard will come in for the suspended Andrew Hick on the bench.

The local derby at Huddersfield will be a good test of the Malcolm Reilly factor, with one of the coach's old clubs, Halifax, the visitors. John Bentley could make his Huddersfield debut, also against a former club.

Elsewhere, it is a question of how clubs can regroup after heavy cup defeats. Wakefield Trinity, with new signing Jamie Field in their squad, will sense an opportunity against Salford, who bring in Mark Johnson for his first game, while Warrington have to prove that their collapse at Odsal was only a blip when Castleford come calling.