Time for some domestic self-help

Dave Hadfield says rugby league's learning process must start at home
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The Independent Online
The return to domestic rugby this weekend will be a test of all British sides' ability to refocus after their assorted disappointments and disasters in the World Club Championship.

On the face of it, the first- and second-placed sides in the Stones Super League, Bradford and Leeds, have more incentive than most to get back to business successfully at Headingley tomorrow.

Leeds, faced with what seemed beatable opposition in Australia, came home chastened and empty-handed. More damaging still for British hopes in the competition, Bradford, unbeaten in the league, lost three times at home to their Southern Hemisphere visitors.

The extra concern now is how they will respond to their failure. The initial signs were not good, their chairman, Chris Caisley, reacting furiously to any suggestions that their results might possibly mean that the game here is not in the state of rude health claimed for it.

In the long run, however, there is nothing to prevent the Bulls being wiser for the experience. Their coach, Matthew Elliott, has a tendency to blame himself, rather than the team, when things go wrong. "I'm disappointed with the results - and possibly with my coaching - but I'm not disappointed with my players," he said.

But the last three weeks have given players who had forgotten what it was like to lose a domestic league game both a sharp shock and a new standard to aim for. One of today's opponents, the Leeds prop Barrie McDermott, put it well: "Each individual knows now that he can give a lot more than he has been giving.

"I expect to see a big difference over the next few weeks. It's always humbling to get 40 points put past you, but it's a foolish man who doesn't learn from his mistakes."

Super League is fortunate to have a game as good as this with which to re-launch itself. Although Elliott will not admit as much, victory will virtually guarantee Bradford the title, whilst Leeds know that two wins over the Bulls - they play them again immediately after the next tranche of World Club Championship matches - will close their seven-point lead to manageable proportions.

Leeds also have the memory of two Challenge Cup semi-final defeats by Bradford to goad them on. They undoubtedly owe their neighbours one, but they will not know until 9.30pm - the kick-off having been put back to get the cricketers out and the rugby players into Headingley - whether they have caught the Bulls at a time when their self-belief is in question.

Leeds, because of the way their fixtures in Australia fell, have had the benefit of getting home a week before the other returning British clubs. Fatigue is more likely to be a factor for the likes of Oldham, who face St Helens without the injured Matt Munro and the suspended Paul Davidson, whose eventful trip down under included a three- match suspension for biting and a court appearance for fighting with sailors in Adelaide.

Wigan will be without Martin Hall, who broke his arm somewhere along the way, at home to Sheffield, whilst London rest Peter Gill against Castleford.

The most intriguing question of all, however, is how Halifax will look after their shellackings in Australia. They were in reasonable form before their departure, but a record of 204 points conceded in three games on their travels means that they will be watched closely for signs of permanent damage against Paris St Germain this afternoon.