Sleightholme's summer stint

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The Independent Online
Bath claimed to have come exhausted to the end of the longest season but this has not prevented Jon Sleightholme, their England wing, opting for a summer of professional rugby league with Sheffield Eagles, beginning against the Super League leaders, St Helens, on Saturday.

So much for the theory of there being too much rugby, or the other one that, as the next union season will be by far the most demanding in the game's history, it would be better to take time out while it is still possible. Instead, Sheffield hope to field Sleightholme against Saints, a game that is being taken to the Cardiff RFC club ground as a missionary venture because Don Valley Stadium is unavailable.

Sleightholme, 23, who was last season's most improved player at the top end of English rugby union, did some useful self-promotion not only in the Bath-Wigan game at Twickenham 11 days ago but more particularly when the champion sides met under league rules at Maine Road on 8 May.

"We're hoping to do a deal to recruit Jon for the rest of the summer and as early as this Saturday," Gary Hetherington, the Eagles' chief executive and coach, said yesterday. "We were certainly impressed with him in the games between Bath and Wigan. He is a northern lad and I was alerted that he would be interested in having a summer in Super League.''

Sheffield's approach for Sleightholme is the first of its kind to have come to fruition, though there have been indications that Bath and Wigan are interested in temporary player exchanges, and a number of former union players, most recently Scott Quinnell and Jim Fallon, have signed to return full-time from league to their original code.

David Bishop, the former league and union Welsh international, is set to return to Pontypool as player-coach. Bishop, 34, who left the club eight years ago when he joined Hull KR in a pounds 100,000 deal, will take over the coaching duties from the New Zealander, Graham Taylor, on 13 June.

The outbreak of fellow-feeling between rugby union and rugby league is in contrast to the experience of the Scots on tour in New Zealand. A training session in Hamilton, where Scotland played Waikato in the early hours of today, descended into internecine violence when Damian Cronin kicked Graham Ellis in the head.

This led Cronin into a fracas with Doddie Weir and Peter Wright, the unedifying spectacle then being resolutely played down by the management.

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