Rugby League: Platt the top prop playing out of sight - Dave Hadfield reports from Brisbane on a British forward at the peak of his powers

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The Independent Online
WHEN an international panel of judges voted Andy Platt the best rugby league prop in the world last year, Australia begged to differ.

Two-thirds of the way through the Ashes series, they would still demur from that assessment. The general view here now is that he is not just the best prop in the game, but the best forward.

Platt is a player who takes others' opinions of him with several truck-loads of salt. As a forward whose strong suit is physical commitment and hard work rather than eye-catching skills, it can be easy for his contribution to be missed from the sidelines. He is noticed most when he is missing or on the even more rare occasions when he has a sub-standard game. That cliche, the player's player, fits him as snugly as his shoulder- pads.

But Andy Platt is now getting the credit he is due. He was a clear choice as man of the match in Wigan's Premiership final victory over St Helens in May, and he took similar plaudits after Great Britain's second Test victory in Melbourne last Friday. If that sort of recognition means something to him, the face will never show it.

Platt's contribution goes beyond his own performances in matches, however. Both the Wigan coaches he has played for, Graham Lowe and John Monie, have credited him with setting the standards in training and match preparation that the young forwards at the club measure themselves against. Now, with five of his Wigan team-mates alongside him in the Great Britain pack, the Platt influence is working through at international level. In a setting where everyone is fair game for the endless round of mickey-taking, he commands respect.

'I don't set myself up as any sort of super athlete,' Platt said. 'Fitness is a very personal thing and I always know in myself when I need to do a bit extra. A lot of the other lads do the same thing now.' True, of course; but somehow it is usually Platt that you find hoisting a few extra weights at some odd hour of the day.

Swimming has been a more recent addition to his schedule. 'I started about a year ago, going down to Wigan Wasps and getting some advice from the coach. I like to swim twice a week now and I found it really good for aerobic conditioning.'

Platt made the decision when he joined Wigan four years ago that he would give up his job with his uncle's steel erecting business. 'They were paying a lot of money to sign me from St Helens, so I thought that the least I could do would be to give them four years of my best, and that's what I've tried to do.'

Platt was not the first Wigan player to become a full-time professional, but he is perhaps the best illustration of the benefits of doing so and undoubtedly the man who made it fashionable.

It is an alarming prospect for Wigan, however, that four years of his best might be all they will get from him. Platt's contract with the club is up and his talks with the directors before he left on tour failed to produce any agreement.

That is where Australia's radically modified perception of him comes in. There is not a club in the country's leading competition, the Winfield Cup, that would not like to have Platt in its pack. A straw poll of Sydney coaches revealed that he was the player they would most like, ahead of more obviously glamorous talents like Martin Offiah and Denis Betts.

'I have had some interesting approaches - from Parramatta and from one or two other Australian clubs,' said Platt, who had a summer as a youngster with Brisbane Wests in 1985. Wigan will undoubtedly try to keep him and, given the Australian salary cap system, would be able to out-bid any Australian opposition, but they had better move quickly.

'I'm 27 and I have to think about my future but, at the moment, my priority is the Test - the biggest game of my life,' he said. 'The preparation this week has been deliberately low-key. I think everyone realises that it's only one Test won and we've come here to win the series. Winning the odd Test just isn't good enough any more.'

If Britain are to complete the job at Lang Park tomorrow, the running and tackling of Platt - no player rattles Australian ribs quite like him - will be right to the fore.

Adding an Ashes series to his full fist of domestic honours could, he concedes, give him the feeling that he has achieved everything he can in the British game. It could edge him a little closer to trying something completely different, much to the detriment of Wigan and Great Britain.

But then he starts thinking aloud about what next season at Central Park could hold. 'You know,' he said, 'I never get tired of winning.'

(Photograph omitted)