Rugby League: Welsh trio to make debuts

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The Independent Online
TWO Welshmen and one Englishman will make their debuts for the land of their fathers in the international against France in Perpignan this Sunday, writes Dave Hadfield.

All three newcomers - Ian Stevens, Paul Kennett and Peter Williams - are named as substitutes, but doubts about the fitness of some members of the starting 13 suggest that their involvement could be more central than that.

Neither Stevens nor Kennett have been immediate successes since heading north. Stevens, the former Swansea, South Wales Police and Welsh Under-21 stand-off, joined Hull last season but has mostly been in the reserves. Kennett signed for Swinton from the junior club, Tondu, two years ago, but could not establish himself in his preferred position of scrum- half and is now in the centres.

Williams, the Wigan-born centre, is not in the Salford first team after suffering a hip injury earlier in the season. A former England rugby union international, Williams qualifies by virtue of having a Welsh father.

Wales have optimistically named both Allan Bateman and Ian Marlow in their starting team for Perpignan, although both will need further tests, on thigh and groin injuries respectively.

Three players - Adrian Hadley, Gary Pearce and Rowland Phillips - start a match for Wales for the first time, although all of them have appeared before as substitutes. They replace the injured Gerald Cordle and Jonathan Griffiths, plus the suspended Mark Jones.

David Bishop has delayed his retirement for at least one more match and Paul Reynolds, the Rochdale Hornets centre called up this week, will go to France as travelling reserve.

The weekend's top domestic action is concentrated into this evening which sees the leaders, Wigan, at Halifax, and second- placed St Helens at the side directly below them, Castleford.

Halifax are strong at Thrum Hall, especially on bleak winter nights, but Wigan have Joe Lydon back at full-back and hope Billy McGinty will be fit to play in the pack. Four Halifax forwards - Harrison, Fieldhouse, Lord and Divorty - have been passed fit and there will be few better nights for their winger, Mark Preston, who was discarded by Wigan two years ago, to show his paces.

With Griffiths and Mike Riley injured, Alan Hunte suspended and Anthony Sullivan in Perpignan, St Helens give a debut to Sean Casey on the wing.

Castleford have stability on their side, retaining the line-up that beat Carlisle last week and Bradford the week before, although Grant Anderson will replace the South African triallist, Jamie Bloem, on the bench.

The Great Britain full-back, Graham Steadman, will be fit to resume next week after almost two months with an ankle injury. He will come back in the reserves, however, so good has been the form of his understudy, Simon Middleton.

The former Great Britain captain, Mike Gregory, played 35 minutes of an Alliance match without adverse reaction following his latest knee operation.

WALES (v France, Perpiganan, 13 Dec): Ford (Salford); Hadley (Widnes), Bateman (Warrington), Devereux (Widnes), Sullivan (St Helens); Pearce (Ryedale-York), Ellis (Warrington); Young (Salford, capt), Bishop (London Crusaders), Marlow (Hull), Moriarty (Widnes), Phillips (Warrington), Ackerman (Salford). Substitutes: Stevens (Hull), Moran (Leigh), Kennett (Swinton), Williams (Salford). Travelling reserve: Reynolds (Rochdale Hornets).