Rugby: Weston steps up a class and is expected to fill Schofield's boots

New faces for '98: Craig Weston
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The Independent Online
Huddersfield's hopes of making an impression in the Super League may depend on the displays of their new stand-off, Craig Weston.

Dave Hadfield on the Australian who has a hard act to follow.

If Britain's most-capped stand-off feels the need to lace on the boots very often this year, it will mean that his own plans for the position at Huddersfield have back-fired.

In their player-coach, Garry Schofield, the newly promoted club have on hand the doyen of the role for almost a decade. But it will suit Schofield best if the slightly less recognisable figure of Craig Weston fills the No 6 shirt successfully in 1998.

"I will play if I'm needed," says Schofield. "But I hope that I won't be.''

The man he sees as his replacement, the 24-year-old Weston, is new to Super League but not to Huddersfield.

The Australian was outstanding last season as they went on a winning roll that saw them take the Divisional Premiership at Old Trafford and, ultimately, Super League promotion through the back door after finishing second in the First Division and displacing Paris.

The question now is whether Weston can make the step up in class. Despite warnings from everyone - Schofield included - that it will be a whole new ball game, he approaches the experience with a matter-of-fact determination to take it all in his stride.

"It's going to be faster," he concedes. "But we can adjust to the extra pace. That will be the main difference - the hits won't be any harder. A lot of it will be mental. If we go out there thinking that they're all a lot better than us, then we're beaten before we start.''

Weston has impressed good judges in this country. St Helens tried to sign him before the re-organisation of Super League gave him the chance to play at that level with Huddersfield and his pedigree is a good one. He played for the crack Australian Schoolboys side before moving to the Gold Coast and the South Queensland Crushers.

Neither of those clubs turned out to be an ideal career move, but Weston has shown his quality since relocating to Yorkshire. He might lack the blinding acceleration that made Schofield such a fearsome proposition in his prime, but his first season at Huddersfield marked him out as a clever footballer with the ability to find gaps himself and to send others through them.

"I played a lot at centre last season, but stand-off is the role I want," he says. "I know that Garry - or his assistant, Phil Veivers, who can play there as well - can come in if things go wrong. That could put a bit of pressure on me, but my target is to make it unnecessary.''

Just how central Weston is to Huddersfield's plans is illustrated by the way they have gone out and recruited a new scrum-half, specifically to dovetail with him.

The Cook Islander, Ali Davys, seemed to most observers to do pretty well there last season, but he has been replaced for the coming campaign by Chris Orr, with whom Weston played as a schoolboy in Sydney and as a professional with Gold Coast.

"We have played a lot together and have always worked well," Weston says. "One of Chris's characteristics is that he is a very good talker and organiser.

"No disrespect to Ali, but that wasn't his strength, so having Chris there will take a lot of the pressure off me and make life so much easier.

"He came to England on his honeymoon last year and I was able to tip off Huddersfield that he was looking for a club.''

The two have trained together in Sydney since the end of last season, spending long hours pounding up a punishing series of steps at their local beach, so neither fitness nor mutual understanding should be a problem when the 1998 Super League season begins.

With Orr buzzing and organising around the rucks, Weston should, in theory, be free to play the more expansive game that he relishes, releasing the likes of Paul Loughlin, Danny Arnold and Paul Cook to do some damage among the elite.

"Obviously it's going to be harder against the likes of Wigan and Bradford, but there are some poor Super League sides, some teams down towards the foot of the table who we think we can beat," Weston says.

"I enjoyed it so much last season that my aim has to be to enjoy it just as much this time.''

If he does, it will probably mean that Schofield will be able to enjoy a sideline view of Huddersfield's progress. The former Great Britain captain will not be throwing away his boots just yet, but if Weston lives up to his coach's expectations they might only be used on the training paddock.

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