Rugby League: Reilly fears a talent drain

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CASTLEFORD supporters could get their final glimpse this afternoon of two of their favourites - St John Ellis and Mike Ford. Both play against Bradford Northern in the Premiership semi-final at Odsal and, if they lose, it could be their last match before decamping to join the Queensland Crushers and their former Castleford coach, Darryl Van de Velde.

Van de Velde's recruiting trip to Britain has hardly been a cloak and dagger operation; he asked Castleford's permission to talk to Ellis and Ford and now awaits their reply. It looks increasingly likely that Ford, out of contract at the end of this season, will take the bait.

The position of Ellis, the game's leading try-scorer this season, is more problematic. He is still under contract at Cas, although he is on the transfer list at a prohibitive pounds 200,000.

Bradford have one player destined for the expanding Winfield Cup competition in Australia - their centre or winger Daio Powell is to join the Western Reds in Perth, along with Salford's Jason Critchley. The Reds' attempts to secure a big British name, like Jonathan Davies, John Devereux or Garry Schofield, have so far come to nothing, but they are unlikely to stop trying.

The Auckland Warriors have been more successful in that regard, with Andy Platt and Dean Bell both leaving Wigan to join them for their inaugural season, and Denis Betts and Frano Botica set, in all likelihood, to follow them.

The admission of four new teams into the Winfield Cup was always bound to create increasing competition for the services of quality players. There are those who would try to re-establish an international transfer ban that would stand up to the inevitable legal challenge.

Ironically, one of the biggest beneficiaries from a ban would be the Great Britain coach, Malcolm Reilly, who was the principal figure in the last great exodus of British players in the early Seventies. Now, however, he sees the implications for the British game as a whole and hopes that no more players join the drain of talent down under.

TODAY'S FIXTURES (3.0) Stones Bitter Premiership semi-final Bradford v Castleford. Second Division Premiership semi-finals Doncaster v London Crusaders; Workington v Batley.