Smith spots the difference

Dave Hadfield is cautious of reading too much into today's Wembley rehearsal
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The Independent Online
GAMES that preview the Cup Final can be misleading, and today's meeting between St Helens and the Bradford Bulls should be no exception.

The two sides due to meet at Wembley on 27 April are thrown together with two Super League points at stake this afternoon. Although the contest will inevitably be watched for pointers to the Silk Cut Challenge Cup final, both coaches will be striving to keep the two games separate. "I don't think this will have much bearing on the final," says Bradford's Brian Smith. "It's a different venue, different players, a different atmosphere."

Smith will be without three of the players he will hope to have available for his Wembley line-up, with Karl Fairbank suspended and Jeremy Donougher and Matt Calland injured.

Donougher, in rampaging form until he collapsed after the Good Friday match at Sheffield, has been cleared of any serious damage, but still has soreness in his neck that could prevent him from playing before the final.

Calland has knee ligament damage and Glen Tomlinson, who is Cup-tied in any event, has a broken bone in his leg.

It is just as well, perhaps, that Smith has his latest recruit, Steve McNamara, available to play his second game for his new club, although he too is unable to play in the final.

Saints have Steve Prescott back at full-back after recovering from a shoulder injury. Alan Hunte drops to substitute, leaving Danny Arnold in possession of the right-wing berth - not surprisingly, since he has scored nine tries in the first three Super League matches.

With Joey Hayes coming back into action in the Alliance team on Thursday, competition for the wing roles at Wembley is boiling up nicely, with Saints' coach, Shaun McRae, hinting that even Anthony Sullivan, leading scorer for the club last season but rather muted recently, could find himself under pressure.

Saints' early season form has shown no trace of that notorious virus, Wembleyitis, and they must be favourites to preserve their perfect record.

The world's most expensive player, Paul Newlove, faces his old club for the first time, while Bradford have the three ex-Saints they took in part- exchange - Paul Loughlin, Sonny Nickle and Bernard Dwyer - making a first return to Knowsley Road. With Wembley in mind, nothing will be held back.

In the rest of today's Super League programme, Wigan go to Castleford, who have exceeded all expectations by winning two of their first three fixtures, and the London Broncos travel to Sheffield Eagles.