Rugby League: New centre of excellence

Kohe-Love brings a fresh look to a vital art.
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The Independent Online
CONNOISSEURS OF high quality centre play should be at Knowsley Road this afternoon because - injuries permitting - the Super League meeting between St Helens and Warrington presents an opportunity to see four of the very best of the art in action.

The Saints' coach, Ellery Hanley, remains determined in his refusal to single out any players for either praise or blame; indeed it is becoming an entertaining game trying to trap him into doing so. But it did not need Hanley to underline the damage that his pairing of Kevin Iro and Paul Newlove did to Castleford on Wednesday night.

When the Saints put together that combination of two of the game's most notable "mood" players for this season, the expectation was that they could blow either very hot or very cold. At Cas on Wednesday, they were positively searing.

Iro, who was returning to the side after one of his frequent injuries, created two tries in the first few minutes to put the Saints on the road to victory. If his defence was a little lacklustre, the same could not be said for Newlove who, quite apart from scoring two marvellous tries, battered opponents with some of the best tackling of his whole career.

Some actually regarded it as the best they had ever seen Newlove play, which might be pitching it a little high. But the message was written in letters several feet tall: when these two hit form together there is very little in the British game to stop them.

And yet Warrington come to town this afternoon with what has been, over the season so far, the best centre partnership in Super League. Alan Hunte, the former St Helens player rescued after one miserable season at Hull, has looked very much his old self. He still has his pace, but he is now a very knowledgeable centre as well, and one who is only going to get better now that he is enjoying his game once more.

Alongside him is the real revelation of the season. Toa Kohe-Love has hardly had a game that has been less than eye-opening. The raw ability has always been there, but he now consistently produces the combination of speed, power and technical sophistication that marks him out as a centre from the very top of the range.

His coach, Darryl Van de Velde, is certainly delighted with his development. "He's played outstanding football all season," he said. "The only trouble is that we don't get the ball to him enough."

Kohe-Love has seen enough ball to score 11 tries so far this season - more than either Newlove or Iro, incidentally - and Van de Velde would like to see him in the Great Britain squad, which would, of course, conveniently exempt him from the overseas quota.

"He's got an English mother and he can draw the dole over here," he said. "So I can't see why he can't play for Great Britain." It is surprising, on current form, that the coach of the national side, Andy Goodway, has not tried to enlist him for his squad to play Australia and New Zealand, where Kohe-Love was born aand brought up, this autumn.

At 22 the best is yet to come from him, while Hunte, Iro and Newlove are the finished product. The same is true of the St Helens side as a whole, especially after the way they regrouped and dealt with Castleford in midweek.

It was a potentially difficult time for Saints, with the shocking defeat by Wakefield co-inciding with a well-publicised internal dispute between Hanley and the club's football executive, Eric Hughes.

It will not be the last bout of tension and drama to be triggered by Hanley's obdurate and single-minded approach to his job. It is a bizarre state of affairs when a coach declares he will no longer talk to the club's programme but the reality is that, whilst he has the likes of Iro and Newlove to do his talking on the pitch, much that could have been considered intolerable will be forgiven.

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