Rugby League: Matautia missing for Saints

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The Independent Online
ST HELENS could hardly have found a more pivotal game with which to begin life after Bobbie Goulding than tomorrow night's meeting with Bradford.

The two most successful clubs in the first two seasons of Super League have both had mixed campaigns so far and the loser this weekend will feel far from secure in the top five.

Saints can only benefit from shedding the distraction that Goulding had become. His free transfer to Huddersfield in midweek stops a messy disciplinary case against him in mid-stride and allows the club to concentrate on the job in hand.

The post-Goulding half-back pairing of Tommy Martyn and Sean Long has looked full of potential and those two players can now get on with it, knowing that the roles are theirs.

Saints will be without Vila Matautia, recently returned from a broken arm and now suspended for one match for punching.

Bradford will be closer to full strength than for a long time, with only their long-term injury victims - Paul Anderson, Danny Peacock and Warren Jowitt - definitely ruled out. Nathan McAvoy has an ankle problem, but Brian McDermott is set to return after a knee injury.

The degree of the pressure on the loser depends on Sheffield Eagles' fortunes at Wigan. John Kear, the Sheffield coach, has slight doubts over Willie Morganson and Dale Laughton, but Wigan's pack is below full strength in the absence of Denis Betts and Neil Cowie.

Betts could be out for a month with a knee tendon injury, while Cowie has a recurrence of his hamstring trouble. Terry O'Connor comes into the front row, with Mick Cassidy and Lee Gilmour forming a new combination behind him.

Meanwhile, Goulding begins his Huddersfield career on the bench against Salford but is certain to come into the action before long. Goulding once understudied Andy Gregory at Wigan and now has the opportunity to further undermine the Salford coach's season. Huddersfield are the only team below Salford in the Super League table and the wrong result tomorrow would be a disaster for Gregory. He is likely to turn to Josh White to take over at scrum-half from Shane Kenward, the unlucky Australian who dislocated his wrist midway through his debut last week.

An unusual injury costs Mark Johnson, the South African winger, his place in Hull's team against Castleford. Johnson ran into a goalpost trying to prevent a try at Odsal last week and gashed his knee on the protective covering so badly that the in jury needed 20 stitches. Graham Hallas comes in for him, with Dean Busby replacing David Stephenson in a reshuffle in the pack.

Damien Gibson has signed a new two-year contract with Halifax but misses tomorrow's game against Warrington with a rib injury.

Gateshead are confident of getting the go-ahead on Monday from Super League's board of directors to join the competition next season.

One of next season's unsuccessful applicants, Cardiff, have offered Gateshead the chance to sign Solomon Haumono. They had first option on Haumono, the Canterbury forward disciplined by his club for flying to Britain to be with his girlfriend, and have now passed him on to the North-east franchise.

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