Rugby league: Injuries give Long chance to shine

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The Independent Online
FOR the first time, elite players have the luxury of playing just one match over the Easter holidays. Although it is only the second of a 23-game Super League season, however, the single fixture is of great importance to several clubs.

St Helens-Wigan derbies are an institution on Good Friday, but it would be a better Friday for Saints if they were closer to full strength. The loss of Simon Haughton from Wigan's team pales into insignificance alongside Saints' injury list, which includes Keiron Cunningham, Apollo Perelini, Vila Matautia, Chris Smith, Damien Smith and Tommy Martyn.

Martyn's likely absence at least gives Sean Long the chance to show what a mistake Wigan made when they sold him to Widnes a year ago tomorrow. Long was Saints' match-winner when he came on as a substitute for Martyn at Salford last week.

At the start of the season, the London Broncos were threatening opponents with a mighty front row that read: Mark Carroll, Robbie Beazley and Grant Young. Surprisingly beaten at home by Halifax on the opening day, they will kick-off at Hull today with none of the three on the field. Hull, equally unexpected victors at Sheffield on Sunday, have shown their potential to be awkward opponents and another defeat for London would start to sow doubts about their prospects.

Sheffield go back to Castleford, the scene of their Challenge Cup quarter- final win, while Halifax, at The Shay for the first time, have Kelvin Skerrett fit after an asthma attack to take on Huddersfield.

Salford are at Warrington in a meeting of two teams beaten last week and Bradford and Leeds collide at Odsal on Sunday.

The eight clubs starting their Second Division season today all believe they have a genuine chance of winning the competition with the programme designed to throw up as many local-ish derbies as possible. The two former Super League clubs which have been to the brink of extinction and back, Workington and Oldham, are away to Barrow and at home to the Lancashire Lynx respectively.

The First Division leaders, Hull KR, are at Keighley, who have been trying to enlist the Wigan prop, Lee Hansen, and George Mann, who has been released by Warrington.

The Rugby League has called suggestions that it has handed over rights to negotiate broadcasting deals to Super League "unhelpful."

The League's deputy chief executive, Dave Callaghan, said there had been "no sell-out" and that "talk of the RFL giving up broadcasting rights is not true." The matter will be discussed by the game's Council in June.