Rugby League: Sailor's Boxing Day pay-day

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THERE WILL be more of a flavour of Christmas past than Christmas future as four Yorkshire clubs cling to the last sprigs of tradition by playing on Boxing Day.

The biggest holiday derby of them all has bitten the dust this year, having been reduced to farce when St Helens fielded a reserve side against Wigan last Christmas. At most other clubs as well, coaches and players have got their way and left the deep mid-winter well alone.

Leeds, who host Halifax on Boxing Day morning, have special reasons for bucking the trend. They need to get some value for money out of Wendell Sailor, who, thanks to the machinations of the rugby union authorities, is being paid for two rugby league friendlies but not for his regular appearances for Leeds Tykes.

The Brisbane Broncos and Australia winger admits - at least when talking to league people - that he has not been particularly stimulated by his experience of rugby union. He can be expected to return to his code of choice with a sharpened appetite on Saturday.

Of greater long-term significance are the debuts of two players who, unlike Sailor, will figure in Leeds' Super League campaign. The former Great Britain hooker, Lee Jackson, will make his first appearance since arriving from Newcastle Knights.

The hugely promising Karl Pratt, signed from Featherstone this winter, will also make his bow. Although he played on the wing for Rovers last season, his aspirations are as a high-class stand-off. He is likely to play in both roles on Saturday, although it is intriguing to see him listed to start at stand-off.

Another player with a dazzling future in prospect, Kevin Sinfield, is at loose forward, with four other members of Leeds' all-conquering Academy team among the substitutes.

Halifax have newcomers of their own, notably the utility back, Graham Holroyd, signed from Leeds. The match, and the one between Castleford and Featherstone kicking off at the same time, will be the first played under the new rules agreed by the game's international federation. That will mean reverting to the non-scoring side kicking off and rewarding long-range touch-finding kicks by giving the kicking side the feed at the subsequent scrum.