Rugby League: Leeds look to young ones

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The Independent Online
AROUND Headingley these days people are thinking the previously unthinkable - that Doug Laughton might actually have been right about one or two things, writes Dave Hadfield.

Leeds's victory over Castleford last Wednesday was their fourth in a row. It is a long way from fully justifying the money the coach has spent rebuilding the side, but it is undeniably an improvement on their form earlier this season.

The modest winning streak will be difficult to sustain as Leeds must travel to Warrington this afternoon and then meet Wigan five days later. But even if they are dealt with as firmly as ever by Lancashire's finest, there are considerable grounds for optimism.

Although there are still an uncomfortable number of expensive under-achievers at Leeds, a significant proportion of Laughton's buys have come good. Ellery Hanley (particularly impressive in the hard- earned victory over Castleford), Gary Mercer and Alan Tait have demonstrated that not every big-name signing sees a move to Leeds as an opportunity to put his feet up.

Harvey Howard, the product of Laughton's latest raid on his old club, Widnes, should make his full debut today and could be another who proves his worth.

More important in the long term is the potential of his young players. No one could call Laughton a track-suit coach, but the common perception that he spends most of his time sitting snug in his office is not entirely fair.

During his two-and-a-half years in charge at Leeds, he has watched an enormous number of junior matches across the north of England in search of high-grade young talent. Over the past few weeks, those hours on the touchline have started to pay off.

Players such as the ultra- confident stand-off Graham Holroyd, the utility player Marcus Vassilakopoulos - he wouldn't mind being called plain Vass but his Cypriot father insists on the full version - and Francis Cummins have taken their chances in the first team and impressed.

It is this new generation that Laughton is shaping, rather than the old one bought off the peg, that could yet earn him an invitation to carry on at Headingley when his contract expires at the end of the season - something that would have seemed highly unlikely a month or two ago.

TODAY'S FIXTURES (3.0 unless stated) Stones Bitter Championship Bradford Northern v Oldham; Castleford v Sheffield (3.30); Halifax v Hull; Hull KR v Featherstone (3.15); Warrington v Leeds. Second Division Barrow v Swinton (2.30); Bramley v Doncaster (3.30); Dewsbury v Highfield (3.30); Hunslet v Carlisle (3.30); London Crusaders v Keighley (playing at Hendon FC); Rochdale v Huddersfield; Ryedale-York v Whitehaven (3.15); Workington v Batley.