Rugby League: McCracken's presence will test Trinity

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The Independent Online
THE SECOND weekend of the Championship programme is notable for the presence - or, in some cases, the absence - of new overseas names on team-sheets.

The most eagerly awaited debut is that of Jarrod McCracken at St Helens. Whether the 21-year-old New Zealand centre can live up to the billing of 'the new Mal Meninga' rather rashly laid at his door by his new coach, Mike McClennan, is something Saints' supporters will decide over the next few months. As a damaging runner and intimidating physical presence, however, he is probably the closest available thing.

McCracken made his reputation by dominating the former St Helens hero in the Test in Melbourne last year. Since then, his career in Australia - where he plays for the Canterbury-Bankstown club - has been chequered. The last two seasons have brought him a total of 15 weeks in suspensions, but McClennan is adamant that a player he has known since his junior days in Auckland has learned his lesson.

One thing that cannot be faulted is McCracken's sense of timing. His arrival this week allows him to slot straight into a side which has lost Gus O'Donnell with a broken thumb. Jonathan Griffiths can now move to scrum-half and Tea Ropati to stand-off for tomorrow's game against Wakefield Trinity.

Two other significant arrivals this week have been the Australian internationals, Garry Jack and Bruce McGuire, who have joined Sheffield Eagles. They bring a wealth of experience, which, on the evidence of a humbling 46-6 defeat by Wigan in their first match back in the top division, Sheffield will need in the months ahead and certainly at Warrington tomorrow.

Hull have the Canberra utility back, Scott Gale, in the country in time for their game at Wigan, but his luck with injuries does not appear to have improved much in the four years since he was last here. An injury in his first game kept him out for most of the 1987-88 season that he had planned to spend with Hull and he flew in this week with a torn calf muscle that threatens to delay his debut this time. With Rob Nolan also struggling, the Hull coach, Royce Simmons has a problem at scrum-half.

A headache of a different sort keeps Phil Clarke out of the Wigan side. He was concussed last week at Sheffield and is replaced at loose forward by Sam Panapa. Denis Betts is also sidelined, ending a run of 90 successive games.

Wigan were prepared to unload Panapa this summer until their coach, John Monie, pointed out that, apart from his versatility, Panapa has two virtues which are in short supply at the club; he is relatively cheap and does not kick up a fuss when dropped. His value to the club is emphasised by his ability to play in the pack tomorrow, rather than in his more usual role among the backs.

Leeds' visit to Halifax brings together the two big spenders of the new season and provides John Bentley and Gary Divorty with a home debut against the club that sold them this summer.

Paul Bishop also appears at Thrum Hall for the first time since his transfer from St Helens and his clashes with the Leeds scrum-half, Andy Gregory, are usually something to savour. Andy Goodway will start his first game for Leeds, in place of the broken jaw victim, Gary Mercer.

Castleford and Salford, who meet at Wheldon Road, are both awaiting play-makers from Australia in Peter Coyne and Craig Coleman respectively, while Leigh, who have yet to finalise their overseas recruitment, are at Bradford.

Bobby Goulding, the Widnes scrum-half, faces a trial by video next week for an alleged attack on his Castleford counterpart, Mike Ford. The disciplinary committee spotted an incident while viewing the offences that led to John Devereux of Widnes and Castleford's Keith England being sent off last Sunday.