Rugby League: Saints gamble on new look: Coach concentrates on knockout competitions

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The Independent Online
THE St Helens coach, Mike McClennan, has responded to last week's defeat at Hull by making several team changes for today's Regal Trophy third-round tie against Warrington.

Saints were beaten more decisively than an 18-14 scoreline suggests and may have sacrificed their Championship hopes in the process, making it all the more important for them to progress in knockout competitions. Tea Ropati is back at stand-off after a six-game absence with a calf injury. He admits that his return is a calculated risk. 'There's still a bit of pain, but I've been told I can't make it any worse,' he said.

His partner is, surprisingly, Tommy Martyn, a natural stand-off himself. Jonathan Griffiths, a specialist scrum-half, is on the bench, a sign of McLennan's continued mistrust of him.

David Lyon is fit to return at full- back and Andrew Haigh replaces Mike Riley on the wing. The club captain, Shane Cooper, reverts to what is now surely his only feasible position - loose forward. It is, however, asking a lot of Saints' new line-up to click immediately against opponents in as good form as Warrington.

The First Division's leaders have last week's squad all fit and available. They are able to add Rowland Phillips to their party, but not their other Welshman, Allan Bateman.

Wigan hope to have both their Great Britain wingers, Jason Robinson and Martin Offiah, fit for a potentially tricky tie at Oldham, to the disappointment of Oldham's coach, Peter Tunks. 'Offiah scored three tries that nobody else would have scored against us in the league two weeks ago,' Tunks said. 'I don't mind admitting that I would have been relieved to see him out.'

The former Oldham hooker, Martin Hall, retains his place in Wigan's front row, even though the Great Britain hooker, Martin Dermott, is fit again. Hall has played splendidly as Dermott's deputy and the Wigan coach, John Dorahy, said that he deserved to hold his spot.

Shaun Edwards is still out with a shoulder injury, so Frano Botica continues at scrum-half. Edwards' former understudy at Wigan, Martin Crompton, is likely to play at stand-off for Oldham, with Steve Kerry at scrum-half. Tunks expects the Australian Test forward, Bob Lindner, to be fit after a back strain, but the loss of Se'e Solomona with a broken arm is a major blow.

Christian Tyrer switches to full- back, in place of the injured Stuart Spruce, for Widnes' trip to Hull, which, like the meeting of Bradford and Halifax, is another well-balanced all-First Division tie.

Salford need to watch their footing at Batley tomorrow. Dewsbury, who play on the same ground, had last night's League game against Doncaster postponed, but the pitch will be muddy enough to be 'a great leveller' despite being anything but level.