Rugby League: Schofield returns to his roots to tackle Oldham's amateur force

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The Independent Online
GARRY SCHOFIELD will turn the clock back when he plays his first competitive match for the Rugby League's rock bottom side tomorrow. Great Britain's most-capped player will captain Doncaster, bottom of last season's Second Division, in their Silk Cut Challenge Cup tie against Oldham St Annes.

"It's the first time I've played against an amateur side since I was an amateur myself," said Schofield, a professional for 17 years, but one who still feels he has something to prove.

Sacked as coach at Huddersfield last season - a matter which he is pursuing through legal channels - one of the most celebrated players of his generation found himself something of a forgotten man. "I don't think I've got a bad record in the game and I was hoping that some offers might come in, but the phone had never been so quiet," he said.

The only available opportunity was to play rugby union - for the first time in his life - with Aberavon. "It was a worthwhile experience," he says of his half dozen games in Wales. "It was frustrating playing at inside centre and not getting the ball, but you don't realise how different a game it is until you try it. I'll always be grateful to them for giving me a chance to play when no one else would, and I've made some good friends - hopefully for life."

But Schofield, now 33, hankered for the game he played for almost three decades: "I wish I had a pound for everyone who's asked me `Why Doncaster?' The simple answer is that they were the only ones who wanted me. There was another First Division club, but they weren't much of an attraction and Peter Smith, the new chairman here, convinced me of Doncaster's ambition.

"Both the rugby and the football club have had a tough time. But the people in the town are all the more desperate for some success because of that."

Schofield, assistant coach to Colin Maskill and development officer as well as captain and player, believes his side can deliver that success. "We've signed other players who have performed at a good level, but we know what to expect from Oldham St Annes this weekend.

"My son plays for Oulton and I've spoken to some people there who know about them. They will be treating it as their Wembley and, if we don't play to our best, Doncaster will go out to an amateur side, as they have before. If not, we get our crack at the big clubs. And I fancy playing Huddersfield."

Other professional sides conscious of such pitfalls include Bramley, coached for the first time by Mike Ford, at the back end of almost as distinguished a playing career as Schofield's, against Leigh Miners-Rangers, and Workington, at home to the National Conference leaders, Skirlaugh.

The 19-year-old Wigan hooker, Jon Clarke, has been sentenced to 18 months in a young offenders institution after pleading guilty to assault charges arising out of an incident at a local nightclub last year. The Wigan chairman, Peter Norbury, said the club was saddened by the outcome, which deprived them of a most promising player for the forthcoming Super League season.

"What he did was out of character and represented a momentary loss of control," he said. "No one condones what he did, but we should support young Clarke and his family in coping with the consequences, and we have no intention of terminating his contract."

Wigan are left without an experienced player in the position, although the Australian utility player, Mark Reber, is due to arrive next week.

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