RUGBY LEAGUE;Leeds pursue a rare hat-trick

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The Independent Online

IF LEEDS are to take the high road to Super League's Grand Final tomorrow, they must do something that teams just do not do by beating Wigan for a third time in a season.

Any inferiority complex from which Leeds suffered has been banished by narrow victories at Headingley and Central Park during the regular season but Graham Murray, the Leeds coach, who already has a hat-trick of sorts to his credit thanks to the Hunter Mariners' win last season, is making no assumptions.

"There's very little between the two teams and both games could have gone the other way," he said.

The balance of power tomorrow night could lie in the centres. Murray will give his New Zealand international, Richie Blackmore, as long as possible to declare himself fit despite his hernia; Brad Godden, the other half of a highly-successful partnership this year, will be able to play.

Wigan have opted for the vast play-off experience of Danny Moore, the veteran of five finals series' with Manly. A combination of a knee injury and the startling form of young Paul Johnson has kept Moore on the sidelines since the two sides last met, but he is regarded as essential for this match.

"I've been in five play-off series' in Australia, which I think is the reason that John Monie has brought me in," he said. "When my knee went against Leeds, I thought I might be out for the season, so I'm just relieved to be back."

Another legacy of that match is that Wigan's Mick Cassidy is serving the last of a six-match suspension, imposed for his tackle on Leeds' Adrian Morley.

Wigan's supporters firmly believe that Morley should have been sent off as well that day, for a tackle that put their hooker, Robbie McCormack, out of the match, and can be relied on to give the Great Britain second- rower a warm welcome.

"I enjoy it when they do that, because it shows they're worried about you," Morley said. "It will be a physical, intense game and that suits the style of football we play."

This should be the game with which the new pay-off concept captures the public imagination. Disappointing gates so far show that the message that this is something bigger and better than the old Premiership format has not yet got through.

There is a degree of confusion, with many still to get their heads round the way that tomorrow's losers get a second chance to reach the Grand Final next week.

Bradford, the first team to bow out of the play-offs, have denied making an approach for Va'aiga Tuigamala, the former Wigan centre now playing rugby union for Newcastle. "We couldn't afford him," said the Bradford coach, Matthew Elliott.

Featherstone's new coach, Kevin Hobbs, takes charge for the first time in an official capacity for the visit of St Esteve in the Treize Tournoi tomorrow afternoon.

Lancashire Lynx, the only one of the three English sides to win in the first round of matches last week, are playing their game against Villeneuve at Preston Grasshoppers, because their regular home, Deepdale, is unavailable.

Paul Anderson, the 21-year-old St Helens utility player, has turned down a new contract offer from the club.