Rugby League: Wizards with a spell of inaction

Dave Hadfield looks at two wayward generals forced away from the troops today
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The Independent Online
TWO of Britain's most-capped scrum-halves will be further away from the action than they would like today.

Andy Gregory, now coach of Salford, has been banished to the stand for the rest of the season, after being hauled up for twice verbally abusing match officials from his usual vantage point on the touchline. Today he will take up his new position as his side entertain Castleford.

Meanwhile as St Helens host the league leaders, Leeds, Bobbie Goulding - once Gregory's understudy at Wigan and the possessor of 17 Great Britain caps, against Gregory's 26 - will also be in the stands. The official version is that Goulding is suffering from groin and ankle injuries. No doubt he has problems in both those areas, but everyone in St Helens, Goulding included, knows that he has been dropped.

Gregory says he will take a seat reluctantly, although he has toyed with the idea of donning the Salford duck mascot's costume in a cunning plan to get closer to his players. He is the only Super League coach who regularly patrols the sidelines, most of the others opting for a more elevated view. The consensus, especially in Australia, is that you can see little of value from pitch level, but that is just one way in which Gregory is out of step with many of his contemporaries.

The modern coach is supposed to be cool and analytical. Gregory is neither; by his own admission, he gets carried away during the match, which is why he sometimes calls match officials the things he does.

It is possible to typecast him as a dinosaur, but he is a dinosaur who must nevertheless be doing something right to get the performances he does out of Salford. If he believes that the game is determined to drive him out, the game must prove him wrong, because there is room for his raw emotion as well as for the detached approach of a John Monie or a Shaun McRae. He must just be careful when television microphones or expert lip-readers are around.

Talking of McRae, he filled in the most interesting team-sheet of his two and a half seasons at St Helens for tonight's match against the unbeaten Super League leaders, Leeds. It is a nettle McRae has come close to grasping in the past, only to decide against it. To do the deed for a match against the best team in the country - and one of Goulding's former clubs - is either brave or foolhardy.

A little like Gregory, Goulding is not everbody's cup of tea, on or off the field. His importance to Saints' double-winning team of two years ago was undeniable, but he has rarely been entirely settled since and his influence has been waning.

Two weeks ago, he told Saints that he was unhappy and fancied a move to Hull. The complication there is that the former Saints player Alan Hunte would have to return from Hull in the same deal, because the two dislike each other far too deeply to play in the same side again. No wonder coaches age prematurely.

One thing that made the decision over today's side easier for McRae is that he has a tempting alternative. Although Sean Long has been playing stand-off for Saints this season, he may one day follow Gregory and Goulding to become Great Britain's regular scrum-half, as his pace and incisiveness could be even more effective from that position.

That switch enables Tommy Martyn to come in at stand-off and give Saints a half-back combination they have not yet tried. Goulding will be watching with interest, but he has no plans, so far as I am aware, to dress up as the club's mascot, Saint Bernard, to gain a closer look at how they manage without him.