RUGBY LEAGUE: Offiah leads way to Sevens

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Great Britain are to take a stronger than expected squad to Sydney for the World Sevens next month, which will in turn create opportunities for newcomers in England's squad to play Wales.

Martin Offiah and the side's captain, Denis Betts, head a complement of five full internationals in the 10-man squad. The rest is made up of players being given experience with the 1996 Ashes tour in mind.

Steve Prescott of St Helens and the Leeds winger, Francis Cummins, are already developing at a pace that suggests they could be involved in that tour, and there is a well-timed call-up for Tony Smith, whose alert support play brought him two tries in Castleford's Regal Trophy tie victory at Leeds last weekend.

The Australians will take any squad containing Offiah seriously and Britain's chief executive, Maurice Lindsay, said that players and clubs would not be allowed to weaken the line-up through withdrawals.

The clash with the Wales against England match on 1 February means that there are no Welshmen in the party and that England have some interesting gaps to fill, notably on the left wing, in the second row and at hooker, where the regular incumbent, Lee J a ckson, is among those going to the Sevens.

Richie Eyres, the Leeds second row, has been told that he can play for Wales, because his previous cap for England came before the new rule permitting players with a Welsh grandparent to qualify was in force.

Kelvin Skerrett, another Englishman who has opted to play for Wales through the grandparent rule, will miss Sunday's Regal Trophy semi-final against Castleford and also stands to lose the chance of a final appearance after being suspended for three matches following his dismissal in the last round for punching.

Jamie Bloem, Doncaster's South African full-back, who has been banned for two years after testing positive for steroids, has failed in an appeal against the severity of the punishment.

The appeals committee ruled yesterday that the use of steroids was "so fundamental and so unacceptable to the game of rugby league that we feel it can only be marked by the imposition of the maximum penalty."

Great Britain squad (World Sevens, Sydney, 3-5 February): J Bentley (Halifax), D Betts (Wigan, capt), S Blakeley (Salford), F Cummins (Leeds), L Jackson (Sheffield), C Joynt (St Helens), M Offiah (Wigan), S Prescott (St Helens), T Smith (Castleford), P Stirling (Hull). Reserves on stand-by: R Simpson, N Summers (both Bradford).