Rugby League: Saints still on the march

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The Independent Online
St Helens arrive unscathed today at the end of a month on the road which their coach, Shaun McRae, always believed would make or break their Stones Super League title ambitions.

Saints have battled through major tests at London and Castleford with a determination that suggests that this evening's visit to Paris should be well within their compass. "Everyone would think this is the easiest of the four, but that could make it one of the toughest," McRae said.

He will be without Vila Matautia, possibly for the rest of the season, but Alan Hunte is fit to return, making it a straight swap at centre.

It is a mark of McRae's influence at Saints that today's opposing coach, John Kear, regards him as the difference between Paris having a chance of causing an upset and, realistically, having none.

"Before Shaun arrived, I would have thought we might have a go at them and get something," Kear said. "But I've studied the videos of the London and Castleford matches, where they really rolled their sleeves up and toughed it out - very un-Saints.

"That's the difference this season and why they will probably win the title."

The pressure is off Paris, Kear feels, following Workington Town's defeat by Oldham last week. "I've had to play a much tighter style of rugby, which has not been in the French tradition, but which has been justified," he said. "Now I can ease up on them and let them off the reins just to see what might happen."

He will be without one of his Australian colony, Todd Brown, today and possibly another, Danny Smith, but hopes that two of his Frenchmen, Didier Cabestany and Fabien Devecchi, will pass fitness tests.

In today's other match, Warrington - minus the ostracised Iestyn Harris - try to regroup for a stab at a top four place with a home game against Castleford, whose coach John Joyner has ended speculation about his future by agreeing a new 12 month contract. Joyner had been linked with the Australian club Western Reds.

Kelly Shelford continues in Harris' place at stand-off, with young Wayne Stevens holding his place at prop and Richard Henare returning on the wing.

The Great Britain coach, Phil Larder, has reassured Harris that, despite his troubles with his club, he will be in the tour squad to be named on Tuesday.

Struggling Workington Town, the Super League's basement club, are to issue 50,000 new pounds 5 shares in an attempt to pay off pressing debts.