Rugby League: Murray's last Leeds season

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LEEDS, STRONGLY fancied to win Super League this season, have been dealt a heavy blow before the campaign starts with the news that it will be Graham Murray's last.

Murray, a success since arriving as coach at Headingley a year ago, is to return to his native Australia at the end of his two-year contract to coach North Sydney in 2000.

"It was a tough decision to make for me and my family," Murray said. "We are really enjoying ourselves in Leeds and the club is on the threshold of a very successful period.

"However, I came for two years and I always hoped to return to coach in the new national competition in Australia. The opportunity has probably come a little sooner than I expected, but it is one I have to take."

Murray made his name with Illawarra, before coaching the Hunter Mariners to the final of the World Club Championship during their single year of existence. Norths, relocating this year from Sydney to the Central Coast of New South Wales, have head-hunted him as the successor to Peter Louis, who is retiring after this season.

"We are naturally disappointed, because Graham has done a splendid job so far and we hoped he would have a long career with us," said Leeds' chief executive, Gary Hetherington.

Murray's arrival last year, after Dean Bell moved to a youth development role, brought Leeds their best season for decades. A long unbeaten run saw them lead Super League for months and they reached the competition's inaugural Grand Final before being narrowly beaten by Wigan.

Leeds are popular favourites to go one better this time and both Murray and Hetherington stressed that it would be business as usual until Murray's departure in October.

Leeds must now turn their minds to the question of a successor, although Hetherington said that there would be no appointment until the end of the season. A limited range of British contenders would be headed by Sheffield's John Kear, but it would be no surprise if the club looked to the southern hemisphere again.

The former Leeds centre, Kevin Iro, has left for Britain to join his new club, St Helens after the release from hospital of his daughter, injured in a fall at home. However, Iro will not arrive in time to be involved in Saints' friendly against Warrington tomorrow night.