Tough task for depleted Cougars

Dave Hadfield looks forward to the second round of rugby league's Regal Trophy
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The Independent Online
Keighley Cougars would be more confident of their ability to become the Regal Trophy's first giant-killers this season if they had their three most influential players available today.

The First Division leaders expect to face St Helens without their England stand-off, Daryl Powell, their South African full-back, Andre Stoop, and their captain and goal-kicker, Simon Irving.

Powell has had a recurrence of the calf injury which curtailed his World Cup, Stoop a reaction to the knee operation that kept him out of the tournament altogether.

The loss of Irving with a twisted knee, however, is every bit as serious a blow, according to the Keighley and England coach, Phil Larder. "If you asked anyone in Keighley who should be in the England team, they would say Simon Irving," said Larder. "He has been an inspirational captain."

Standing in for him is a tall order for a 19-year-old signed from Featherstone, Mathew Foster. Although Powell will have a late fitness test, the Australian, Darren Appleby, has been named in a provisional side, with Keith Dixon in Stoop's place at full-back.

Even with a preposterous kick-off time of 1.10pm, to enable the BBC to squeeze the match in before Wales v Fiji, Cougar Park will be packed with the special breed of fans who have again helped to drag the club clear of the financial jungle over the last two weeks.

However, taking on a team in as potent attacking mood as Saints with a weakened side, also lacking the second-rowers, Darren Fleary and Larder's son, David, looks too tough a task.

St Helens, who have scored 108 points in their last two matches, are without Apollo Perelini and Dean Busby.

In today's other match in a long-running competition which could be one of the notable casualties of Super League re-organisation next year, the French side, St Esteve, go to Workington Town, despite being drawn at home. The convention that the French must always travel is likely to be the deciding factor in this tie.

In the ties tomorrow, there are a series of opportunities for in-form First Division clubs to embarrass top flight opposition. Oldham will field an injury-hit side at Widnes, while Salford will be unchanged at Leeds, who have Harvey Howard in the squad for the first time this season and promote Nick Fozzard to a starting place in the pack after an admirable game in the win over Wigan last week.

n Leeds pulled out of the race to sign the Great Britain international Paul Newlove last night, because of Bradford Bulls' world-record pounds 750,000 asking price. Leeds, heading a number of clubs chasing Newlove who is reported to be unsettled at Odsal, said that after "exhaustive negotiations" they are no longer pursuing their interest in the 24-year-old Test centre.