Rugby League: Warrington hope for cheap tricks from Davies: Dave Hadfield previews the first full day's fixtures of the new rugby league campaign

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The Independent Online
AFTER a year or more of stupefying inactivity on the transfer market, a spectacular breakage of the log-jam during the summer means that the start of the new rugby league season is notable for illustrious debuts.

Oddly enough, the most avidly watched new arrival today will be one who has cost his new club no fee. Widnes' decision to let Jonathan Davies go to Warrington on a free transfer is the worst symptom of the financial malaise that grips that club - and probably several others - making it impossible to meet their wage bill.

Warrington are hardly better off, but have put together a sponsorship deal to bring Davies to Wilderspool. What they hope for, starting with today's home match against Wakefield Trinity, is an improvement in gates - 5,000 rather than the 3,700 for this game last season would be regarded as a success - and an ability to win matches that would have been lost.

'Obviously they are expecting a lot, even though they didn't have to pay a fee for me,' Davies says. 'That means I can't be completely relaxed about it, but my aim is to enjoy my rugby.'

Davies says that some of the pleasure went out of playing during an unsettling last season at Widnes.

In his dual role as loose forward and commercial manager at Wilderspool, Davies' new team- mate, Paul Cullen, is ideally placed to assess his impact.

'On the field, he covers about four weaknesses Warrington have had in the backs,' he says. 'Off the field, he's the undoubted star of my promotional campaign. Sponsorship is already up sharply. The punter through the turnstiles will follow when we start winning matches.'

Davies' fresh start is a long way from being the only significant change on today's teamsheets.

Paul Newlove, already Great Britain's outstanding young centre, has gone from Featherstone Rovers to Bradford Northern and his pace and power should make them formidable opponents.

Newlove would have been welcomed at any club, but chose to link up with his former Featherstone coach, Peter Fox. His performance against a sadly depleted Widnes side today should be a taste of good things to come at Odsal.

Wakefield were another club who could not hold on to their most prized asset this summer, their gifted young stand-off Nigel Wright going to Wigan for what looks suspiciously like a bargain pounds 150,000. Wright makes his debut at number six this afternoon against Hull.

At 19, Wright is already the best natural passer of the ball Wigan have seen for years, but their fans will have to wait a little longer for the first sight of Newlove's only rival as the best British centre in their cherry and white hoops.

Gary Connolly, signed from St Helens for pounds 250,000 in the biggest deal of the summer, is completing a successful spell with the Sydney club Canterbury, which could delay him until the end of September.

Most of this season's crop of new Antipodeans have still to arrive. The biggest recruit, the Australian Test forward Bob Lindner, will arrive in midweek and make his debut for Oldham against Bradford on Friday. Another international, Des Hasler, will not be able to help Hull's cause until Manly are knocked out of the Australian play-offs.

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