Rugby League: League has high hopes for Leicester

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The Independent Online
THE GAME breaks new ground tonight with the Super League fixture between London and the leaders, Bradford, at Leicester's rugby union ground.

A scaled down- version of last year's ambitious "on the road" series sees games at Welford Road and Hearts' Tynecastle stadium in Edinburgh this week, and there are hopes for a near five-figure crowd in the East Midlands this evening.

Among that crowd will be Robbie Paul, who has seen a specialist after a persistent foot injury and has been advised to rest it for two to three weeks. On top of his absence, the Bulls coach, Matthew Elliott, also intends to rest several key players, including Scott Naylor, whose place at centre will be taken by the versatile Michael Withers.

With a five-point lead at the top of the table, Eliott can afford to mix and match; how good a contest Leicester will see will still depend largely on how the Broncos perform after a morale-boosting and convincing home victory over Halifax last Friday.

London have Peter Gill back from suspension and Anthony Seibold returning after a thigh injury, whilst Tulsen Tollett replaces Chris Ryan in the centres. There will be one famous name on the bench, with Shaun Edwards and Martin Offiah vying for the fourth substitute's role.

Two sides from the successful Rugby League Conference, Coventry and Leicester, who have recently signed the former England winger, Ikram Butt, are to play the curtain-raiser at Welford Road, kicking off at 5.40pm.

In tonight's other game, the newly arrived Australian forward, James Gannon, will make his Halifax debut as a substitute at Wakefield, while David Hodgson, already signed by Wigan for next season, replaces Andy Craig in the backs.

The Halifax player-coach, Gary Mercer, is standing down as captain, handing that responsibility to the Australian utility back, Damian Gibson, an ever-present this season at full-back, wing or centre.

"I felt the need to offload some of the responsibility on the field and Damian is thoroughly deserving of the captaincy," said Mercer. "He is a superb professional, always gives 110 per cent as a player and has the respect of myself and his team-mates. I am sure he will do a tremendous job as captain of the side."

Leeds' Test forward Adrian Morley has escaped a suspension after being sent off for punching St Helens' Paul Davidson in their match last Friday. The committee took into account the fact that Morley was sent off within the first two minutes and had, in effect, already missed a match.

Oldham's assistant coach, Graeme Bradley, is to face a special sub-committee of the Rugby League over his alleged refusal to leave the dug-out area after being shown the red card during an Alliance match at Leigh. A date has still to be set for a hearing.