Rugby League: Vowles is the class of Cas

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The Independent Online
THE BEST loose forward in British rugby league will be in action in a sudden-death play-off at the JJB Stadium this evening. But, according to judges who have assessed form over the Super League season, it is not Wigan's Andy Farrell but Castleford's Adrian Vowles.

The annual "Dream Team" is always good for a few arguments, but Vowles' selection has started more than most. Nobody is suggesting that he is an intrinsically more gifted player than Farrell, merely that this season he has been more consistent and influential. "It's good to be recognised in that way," Vowles said. "It will give my mum and dad a kick in Australia when they read about it. Personally, I thought I had a better year last year, but the team as a whole have played well this time and that has helped."

Much of the credit for Castleford's performances is due to their captain, according to his coach, Stuart Raper. "Adrian's leadership and competitiveness have rubbed off on the other guys," he said. "He was a great competitor when I got here, but he needed people around him.

Vowles has not often had players of suitable calibre alongside him during his club career. A product of country football in Queensland, he played for struggling sides at Gold Coast and North Queensland before coming to Britain in 1997. What he knew about Castleford was limited to seeing them on television winning the Challenge Cup in 1986, with the Queenslanders, Ian French and Jamie Sandy, in their side. From that day, he was something of a closet Cas fan.

He had his moments back home, including one State of Origin appearance in 1994. But, to find success at club level, he came to England. "I've won more games this season than I did in five at Gold Coast and two with North Queensland." If he is exaggerating, it is not by a great deal. "This is the best club I've been with. It's like a family and we're all good mates. It's a smaller club than a lot of others, but we've shown this season that we can mix it with the big teams."

Vowles's all-action style at loose forward is an integral part of their ability to compete with the best. "I enjoy it because I'm close to the action and you get to do a lot of work," he said. He would be the last to claim to be as classical a loose forward as Farrell. "Although he's like a stand-off in a lot of ways," he said of tonight's rival.

Vowles, with his workaholic approach, has had the better of their meetings this season, with Cas beating Wigan twice. "That counts for nothing going into the semi-finals," he said. "We're not relying on that good record to say that we're going to beat them this time. They've got a new coach, new patterns of play and new players." Cas, on the other hand, have been the most stable of operations, with virtually the same first-choice line- up throughout and Vowles at the heart of it.

"He's a great leader," Raper said. "He leads from the front and never asks anyone to do anything he won't do himself. I rate Andy Farrell very highly, so for Adrian to make the Dream Team ahead of him is a real pat on the back - and one that he deserves."