Rugby League: Leeds' team policy under observation

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The Independent Online
LEEDS face certain punishment from the Rugby League after fielding a team of reserves at St Helens last night.

But that will be nothing compared with the storm that will break if they pursue the same policy in their last league match of the season, against Bradford Northern.

Leeds, who meet Wigan in the Silk Cut Challenge Cup final at Wembley on 30 April, fielded a side without a single regular first-teamer in their First Division match at Knowsley Road.

Unless Leeds can show that all their stars were injured last night - which seems to be stretching credulity beyond its limits - they will be fined by the League's board of directors.

The real crisis, however, will strike if they field a similar side against Bradford on 24 April.

That is a game which Bradford could need to win to secure the championship, and opposition from a team of Leeds reserves would outrage Bradford's title rivals, Wigan and Warrington.

Leeds are still capable of claiming a spot in the top eight and a place in the end-of-season premiership play-offs, but sides with Wembley on their minds are traditionally tempted to protect key players by resting them, even if most make at least a pretence of fielding a genuine team.

'We are keeping a close eye on the situation,' the League's public affairs executive, Harry Gration, said. 'The League's board of directors has the power to impose a fine if a club plays a deliberately weakened side.'

More important than the fine, however, must be getting across the message that Leeds will not be allowed to turn an exciting championship climax into a farce.

The Widnes referee, David Campbell, is to take charge of the Challenge Cup final. Campbell, aged 39, will be refereeing at Wembley for the first time.

Castleford have transfer-listed the 29-year-old winger St John Ellis, the League's leading try-scorer this season, following his request for a move.