Rugby League: Murray's men face big test

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The Independent Online
ONE PERSON who is completely unsurprised by Leeds' unbeaten start to the Super League season under Graham Murray is his captain at a very different club last year.

Robbie McCormack will hook for Wigan - also with a perfect record - in the biggest game of the campaign so far at Headingley tonight. Afterwards, he and Murray will share a beer and, no doubt, a few reminiscences about their experiences together at the Hunter Mariners.

The two steered the Mariners to the final of the World Club Championship in the club's one year of existence, after which both of them needed a new job. McCormack - heavily touted by Murray - found it at Wigan, while Murray, after Hunter's slow, lingering death, moved in at Leeds.

"They're in very good form and it doesn't surprise me that Muzza's made such a good start there," said McCormack, revelling in his role at Wigan, where he is a full-time professional for the first time in his long career. "It's obviously going to be a very tough game, because they're playing in a very physical way. Their defence is very strong and the equation is that when you get that right everything else tends to fall into place."

Leeds have been criticised in some quarters for being too physical, too aggressive, with Murray admitting that they operate in a "grey area", just the right side of the rule-book, and maintain a permanent dialogue with the controller of referees, Geoff Berry.

But McCormack rejects the idea that there is anything wrong with their new approach. "I don't think you can ever be too physical, can you? That's what the game's about - although Muzza does like the ball to be moved around when you can do it, and that has shown in Leeds' play as well."

Like Leeds' Marc Glanville, McCormack has heard this "too rough, too tough" accusation for most of his career. The two played together for the notoriously rugged Newcastle Knights for the best part of a decade.

"We're playing games pretty aggressively at the moment," said Glanville, who was only cleared to play tonight after it was judged that his sending- off at London last Friday was sufficient punishment. "Maybe some teams can't handle that."

The Wigan coach, John Monie, is one who has witnessed the transformation from a club famous for being "soft" in the forwards when the heat was on to one that sets out to put the frighteners on opponents. "I expected it to happen whan Dean Bell was coach, but it has happened this season," he said.

In retrospect, Bell's influence probably did start to toughen up Leeds' general approach, but the full benefit has not been felt until this season, thanks to the extra organisation that Murray, with his experience at the top level in Australia, has been able to introduce.

No one has benefited more from the new regime than Adrian Morley, the Great Britain forward, who Murray, with his sketchy knowledge of club affiliations, was so delighted to discover was a Leeds player when he took the job.

However, Morley typifies the fine line that Leeds walk. He has been in devastatingly good nick as a runner with the ball and seemed to have eliminated the tackle that hits its target too high from his repertoire. It was back, however, in last Friday's match at London.

Murray will know that Leeds' chances of sustaining their winning start beyond its most rigorous challenge will depend on how well Morley and his team-mates control their aggression.