Rugby Union: Prescott on salvage mission

Once-great Hull lie on the brink of a crushing fall
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The Independent Online
FITTINGLY IN a city that has seen its share of maritime disasters, Steve Prescott's last act as a Hull rugby league player tonight could be to keep them afloat before jumping ship. The former St Helens full- back, a Great Britain tourist three years ago, comes to the end of an ill-fated Hull contract this winter.

"I'm looking around, both here and in Australia," he said. "I have to. None of us knows what the future is here. We don't know if there is any future." The reason for the uncertainty is plain enough. If Hull lose to Sheffield, they are relegated from Super League; even if they win, they must hope that Huddersfield fail to beat Castleford. "It would have a very big effect on the city," Prescott said. "This place needs a team in the top league."

There are rumours and counter-rumours on Humberside about what is at stake. If a side other than Widnes wins the Northern Ford Premiership, so one argument goes, there will be no relegation. One alternative is that Hull will be "invited" to stay up if they finish bottom, but only if they buy out their local rivals, Hull Kingston Rovers.

You would not like to stake your survival plans on either theory. "The only thing for us to do is to go out and win and stay up that way," said Prescott, one player who has no need to reproach himself for his efforts this season. He was showing the sort of form that earned him his tour to New Zealand before a dislocated elbow put him out of action for more than two months. His return, against London last week, could be timely. He was eased back via the wing in that game, but soon switched to his natural full-back position, where he is likely to start tonight, as Hull lost 28-12. "It was a match we could have won. We were held up over their line three times, but that is the story of our season. We've taken a lot of teams close."

Close, but not close enough. Despite their parlous position, Hull have recruited busily over the past two seasons; the trouble is that signings like Prescott, who have given value for money have been rare. So now, still only 25, he will try to restart his career elsewhere. Apart from anything else, time in which to put himself back on the representative map is running out. Although Hull fans have raved about his form this season, it has been a well-kept secret elsewhere. "Nothing against players like Kris Radlinski and Stuart Spruce, who are excellent full-backs, but they are on TV all the time and I'm not," Prescott said.

So, win or lose tonight, Prescott is likely to be on the move, not least because Hull cannot afford him; he was one of the main victims when contracts were suddenly - if temporarily - slashed in mid-season.

But there is work to be done before he goes. Like the promising local youngsters who have been embroiled in the relegation fight, he does not want to be remembered on Humberside as one of the players who took a proud club down.