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Castleford confirms Gower interest

ENGLISH Super League club Castleford has confirmed it is interested in Australian Test half-back Craig Gower, who has fallen out with the Penrith Panthers.The 27-year-old is reported to be furious at losing the club captaincy and being fined $100,000 - $30,000 of which was suspended - in the wake of an alleged drunken weekend on the Sunshine Coast in December and has reportedly asked for a release.Newly promoted Castleford are still searching for a quality half-back following their failure to sign Cronulla's Adam Dykes. The Melbourne Storm have also confirmed an interest in Gower.

Drew denies Tigers victory

A last-minute try from Huddersfield hooker Brad Drew denied newly promoted Castleford victory in their final pre-season game before their engage Super League opener against Hull on February 10.

Hull see off spirited Dragons

HULL continued their preparations for the new season with a 24-10 win over Catalans Dragons, although John Kear?s men were made to work hard for the victory by the Super League newcomers.

Peacock impresses on Rhinos debut

GREAT Britain captain Jamie Peacock made a tryscoring debut for Leeds as the Rhinos overcame a lively Harlequins 28-18 in front of a 4,029 crowd at Headingley Carnegie Stadium.

Bradford deny Noble link to Newcastle

ENGLISH Super League champions Bradford Bulls have rubbished reports linking coach Brian Noble with the imminent vacancy at Australian club Newcastle Knights.Noble, whose contract as Britain coach ends after this year's Tri-Nations Series in New Zealand and Australia, was reported in Sydney to have applied to succeed Michael Hagan when he leaves the Knights for Parramatta at the end of this year. Bradford chief executive Gareth Davies says he has sat down with Noble to discuss the issue and the coach absolutely refutes having had any contact with the Knights.Davies said Noble has stated he would like to coach in a warmer environment like Australia in the future but he is contracted this year and next year with Bradford. Noble is preparing the Bulls for Friday's World Club Challenge with Wests Tigers.Newcastle, who ended last season with the National Rugby League wooden spoon, enjoyed success under a previous Great Britain coach, Malcolm Reilly, who took them to a first Grand Final win in 1997.

Hape inspires Bulls to victory

ENGAGE Super League champions Bradford Bulls warmed up for their World Club Challenge clash in impressive fashion with a comfortable 28-10 victory at new-look Huddersfield. The Bulls, who will return to the Galpharm Stadium for their meeting with the Australian champions on Friday week, were superbly led by new captain Iestyn Harris in their first major pre-season friendly. Even without the rested Paul Deacon, Lesley Vainikolo and new signing Stanley Gene, the champions were too strong for a generally disappointing Giants team, for whom ex-Bradford favourite Robbie Paul made a quiet debut. Former Leeds winger Marcus Bai marked his first appearance for the Bulls with a try but the star performer with a try in each half was New Zealand Test centre Shontayne Hape, who picked up from where he left off in November?s Tri-Nations triumph.Bradford had the game sewn up at half-time when they led 22-0 thanks to tries from Bai, Hape, hooker Ian Henderson and substitute Brett Ferres, with Harris kicking four conversions. Huddersfield, who also had Albert Torrens, Martin Aspinwall, Stephen Wilde, Steve Snitch and Matt Gardner making their first appearances, suffered from a chronic shortage of ideas near the visitors? line. Centre Chris Nero touched down a neat kick from Paul 14 minutes into the second half to enable his side to avoid being whitewashed, but the Bulls increased their lead when the forceful Hape crossed at the corner for his second try and Harris landed a fourth goal. The home side at least had the final say when Torrens, who was the pick of their new signings, followed up a kick from England international Chris Thorman to score his side?s second try and Thorman added the goal.

Weakened Wildcats defeated by Tigers

CASTLEFORD geared up for their return to engage Super League with a satisfying 33-20 triumph over a depleted Wakefield Wildcats team.Australian Luke Dyer, winger Waine Pryce and Michael Shenton all crossed twice for the Tigers, who handed debuts to seven off-season recruits in a spicy pre-season clash.Dyer and Pryce opened their accounts inside eight minutes as Wakefield, who rested all four of their new signings, crumbled under early pressure.Winger Semi Tadulala put the Wildcats on the board before Dyer streaked over to make it 16-4.A try double from Wakefield three-quarter Jason Demetriou in the final two minutes of the first half, allied to two conversions from hooker David March, squared it up at the break.Pryce completed his brace, courtesy of a fine pass from debutant Richard Fa?aoso, only for Wakefield to again hit back as lucky winger Austin Buchanan climbed highest to touch down off Ben Jeffries? pinpoint kick.But Cas finished with a flourish, running in three tries in the final 10 minutes, including a superb double from Shenton.On 70 minutes the teenager evaded a posse of defenders to plunge over the line and four minutes later showed good strength to barge his way past two would-be tacklers.Former Wakefield half-back Paul Handforth landed a drop-goal to make the game safe and Australian winger Damien Blanch put the icing on the cake by twisting his way over the whitewash in the final minute.

Harlequins on a high

HARLEQUINS began their new life on a high note with a resounding 46-6 victory over engage Super League new boys Catalans Dragons in Perpignan.The Londoners, who have traded in their old Broncos tag for the new glitzy Quins look, ran in nine tries to one in a pre-season friendly at Stade Municipal St Esteve watched by a crowd of around 4,000. New signing Mark Gafa was the top scorer with two tries and five conversions while fellow centre Tyrone Smith also bagged a brace of touchdowns.Scrum-half Thomas Leuluai, out for six months with a broken ankle, marked his comeback with the game?s first try and Quins also gave a run-out to Duncan James, one of three youngsters from Harlequins rugby union team. The match marked the culmination of a fortnight?s training camp for Harlequins, who fly back to London on Sunday to continue their preparations for the new campaign. The Catalans, who chose not to play New Zealand scrum-half Stacey Jones, have a second friendly against Hull at the KC Stadium next Sunday as they build up to their opening League match against Wigan at Stade Aime Giral on February 11.

Wolves edge out rivals

WARRINGTON overcame their spirited derby rivals Widnes 21-20 and raised a cash windfall for their seriously ill former player Mike Gregory.The pre-season friendly, watched by a crowd of 6,124 at the Halliwell Jones Stadium, will raise around ?50,000 for the popular ex-captain who spent 12 seasons as a player with Warrington.Gregory, whose sons Sam (eight) and Ben (four) were match-day mascots, has not worked since coaching Wigan in the 2004 Challenge Cup final and is taking the Warriors to court in March under disability legislation.Widnes captain Terry O?Connor, who played under Gregory for Wigan, said: ?I am just happy that we could be involved in a game to help Mike, who is a legend in the game and an outstanding man and true gentleman.?O?Connor?s side went close to embarrassing a near full-strength Warrington side for the second time. They beat the Wolves on Boxing Day and would have completed the double had Lee Marsh been able to land a late conversion.Half-back Chris Bridge was chosen by Gregory as man of the match and presented with the Harry Bath medal, the Australian?s winning memento from Warrington?s 1948 championship success.Warrington just about deserved their win but it was a result which surely confirmed Widnes? right to be considered promotion favourites in the LHF National League.The Vikings twice held the lead in a tightly-contested first half, with impressive hooker Mark Smith and centre Damian Reid scoring tries, both converted by loose forward Marsh.Warrington scored first-half tries through winger Henry Fa?afili, created by an inch-perfect kick by Lee Briers, and Bridge.The visitors, 12-10 ahead at the break, extended their lead to 16-10 when winger Paul O?Connor finished strongly at the corner for their third try 12 minutes into the second half.But hooker Mark Gleeson, making his comeback from a torn hamstring, jinked his way over just short of the hour mark and Bridge levelled the scores with the conversion.Bridge then broke the deadlock with a 74th-minute drop goal before centre Brent Grose took a cut-out pass from new signing Michael Sullivan to score the deciding try.Widnes still had a chance to win the game, with substitute Mick Nanyn going over for their fourth try two minutes from the end, but Marsh was narrowly wide with the difficult conversion.?I thought the way both teams went about their business - it was a very competitive match - was purely down to respect for Mike Gregory,? said former team-mate Paul Cullen, the Wolves head coach.?Both sides showed immense respect for the tie,? said Widnes boss Steve McCormack. ?It was full-blooded, as you would expect from a Warrington-Widnes derby.?It was little surprise that Cullen tipped the Vikings to bounce back following their relegation from engage Super League.?On the evidence of the two games I?ve seen so far, they?re very well drilled and they?ve a great work ethic,? said Cullen. ?Even when a side gets in front, they keep coming back. They are very good signs.?Australian full-back David Peachey, who missed the match in order to attend a family funeral in Sydney, is due back at the club on Monday and is likely to play in Widnes? last friendly against St Helens on Saturday, January 28.Elsewhere, Leeds beat York 25-18 in their pre-season friendly at Huntingdon Stadium.

Leeds sack Great Britain forward Ward

LEEDS has sacked Great Britain forward Danny Ward just one month before the new Super league season gets underway.The Rhinos' blamed serious breaches of club rules over the past year for the 25-year-old's shock dismissal, without going into further details. Leeds chief executive Gary Hetherington says he is not prepared to go into detail.

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