Rugby League: Reilly's cup plans disrupted

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ATTEMPTS to help Great Britain's World Cup preparation by re-arranging the Lancashire Cup final are doomed to end in failure.

The Great Britain coach, Malcolm Reilly, is alarmed by the prospect of Wigan meeting St Helens in the final just six days before the match against Australia - who arrived at their Leeds headquarters yesterday - at Wembley on 24 October.

Up to 14 members of his World Cup squad could be involved. Apart from the risk of injury, Reilly believes that the timing of the county final will make it difficult to concentrate minds on the job ahead when intensive training begins the day after.

The Rugby League has explored ways of easing the problem, by either playing the Lancashire final on the Friday night or the following week, but without success.

Reilly's best allies now are Oldham and Salford, who play Wigan and Saints in Lancashire semi- finals this week. 'I'll be hoping both of them win,' he said, 'but I know that it's unlikely.'

Oldham have the first chance to come to his rescue tonight, when they go to Central Park to meet a Wigan side still lacking Steve Hampson and Martin Offiah and possibly Andy Platt as well.

Platt was substituted at Leigh on Sunday with a groin strain, but another Great Britain prop, Kelvin Skerrett, is set to return after family problems at the weekend.

Reilly is also hoping for a lenient sentence on the Wigan and Great Britain loose forward, Phil Clarke, when he appears before the disciplinary committee on Thursday after being sent off for a high tackle on Leigh's Scott Mahon.

Anything more than a two- match ban would deny Clarke an otherwise certain Wembley place. If Wigan needed extra help to plead mitigation, Reilly would be their man.

The other worry for the national coach this weekend was the medial ligament injury to his regular centre, Sheffield Eagles' Daryl Powell, who has played in Great Britain's last 19 internationals. 'I'll be very disappointed to miss this one,' Powell said. 'There isn't much swelling around the knee, but it doesn't feel too good.'

The likely loss of Powell and a shortage of obvious candidates to play alongside the other incumbent, Gary Connolly, could force a reshuffle on Reilly. He has ruled out the suggestion that Ellery Hanley could revert to his old position, but Garry Schofield could find himself asked to play a role he no longer relishes.

Two feasible contenders, the Widnes pair of Jonathan Davies and John Devereux, will be key men for Wales next month in their first match against England since 1984.

The match will be played on a Friday night, 27 November, at the Vetch Field in Swansea. Wales are already scheduled to play France in Perpignan on 13 December.