Rugby League: Tough task for Saints

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IF ELLERY HANLEY has a mantra as a coach, it is mental toughness. His side, St Helens, will have to show an abundance of that quality if they are to survive their Silk Cut Challenge Cup fifth-round tie at Leeds this afternoon.

Hanley has shown one sort of toughness by leaving out his best winger, Anthony Sullivan, obviously displeased at his being given permission by the club to play rugby union for Wales A recently. It is a surprising and potentially damaging decision, especially as there could still be sufficient doubt over the fitness of Kevin Iro for him to be named as a substitute.

Saints will need all the potential match-winners they can muster against a side that showed the depth of character and determination that Leeds did against Wigan in the last round.

That seemed to mark a step forward on even last season's form - and certainly on the Leeds side Hanley once captained. No one could have set a more pointed example as player and unofficial part-time coach. The difference now is that the mental toughness is institutional rather than individual.

Tomorrow's ties represent a first serious test for two more clubs with reason to think that this could be the season when they turn the corner.

Malcolm Reilly will already have transformed attitudes at Huddersfield, last season's bottom club in Super League, and the word is that Bobbie Goulding, a player who needs a firm hand if ever there was one, has been one of the main beneficiaries.

They have a tricky task, however, against a revamped Salford side that will have drawn great encouragement from the style in which they dispatched the Cup-holders, Sheffield, in the last round.

There is also a buzz at Warrington, their financial problems now behind them and a squad on board that looks high on quality if not on numbers.

Their coach, Darryl van de Velde, does not share the suspicion that their opponents, Halifax, might have peaked last season.

"They did very well last year to finish third, but their best football could be in front of them. They have been a very consistent side and they have bought well," he said.

There will be what their coach, Andy Kelly, admits will be a "weird atmosphere" at Wakefield, where a good three-quarters of the tickets have been snapped up by Bradford supporters.

"To hear them talk, they are bringing 10,000 and will outnumber us by 15 to one," said Kelly. "I'm just looking forward to Belle Vue being full and buzzing, even if it is mainly with their supporters."

Trinity have already suffered one thrashing from the Bulls this year in a pre-season friendly. "But far from demoralising us, that has just encouraged us by showing us what we have to aim for," Kelly said.

He is without long-term injury victims Martyn Holland and Vince Fawcett, but has his captain, Tony Kemp, fit, while Bradford could be without Robbie Paul.

The London Broncos run the danger of being the likeliest victims of an upset. Their tie at Hull KR is the sort of fixture in which they have proved fallible in the past.

Whatever happens there, at least two teams from the Northern Ford Premiership will qualify for the quarter-finals. Two clubs that have won the Cup meet at Widnes, where Leigh are the visitors, while Whitehaven host Oldham in a contest between two that have never been to Wembley.