Power and ferocity of toughest of sports

Superstar: Darren Lockyer retires after League's Four Nations
Superstar: Darren Lockyer retires after League's Four Nations
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IF the Rugby World Cup in New Zealand, which the All Blacks won 9-8 against France last weekend, has whetted your appetite for the game then you may find a new book on the sport ‘Union - The Heart Of Rugby’ of interest.

Written by New Zealand-based journalist and sports biographer Paul Thomas, the book is packed with stunning photography from all over the world which capture both the athleticism and ferocity of one of the toughest sports in the business.

Speaking from personal experience, neither rugby code is for the faint-hearted and some of football’s legendary ‘hard men’ wouldn’t last 40 minutes.

What caught my eye is just how big and powerful the average international is these days. Seemingly without exception, they all boast bulging muscles - the result of spending hours in the gym - which players didn’t do in my day.

The 200-page book is split into eight chapters: Heroes, Pride, Glory, Courage, Team. Pain, Passion and Honour.

Each chapter is supported by stunning images and contributions from five Rugby World Cup winners: Nick Farr-Jones (Australia), Martin Johnson (England), John Kirwan (New Zealand), Phillippe Sella (France) and Joel Stransky (South Africa).

Having all played at the top level, several of them having captained their country, they are all eminently qualified to comment on the issues discussed in the book and they do so in such a way in a very eloquent way which the reader can relate to.

The book, priced £25, is available from all good book shops. But one lucky Star reader will win a free copy by answering the question: What is the nickname of the Australian RU team?

Simply send your answer to Steve Hossack, The Star, Sunny Bar, Doncaster (supplying a telephone number) or email Steve,Hossack@thestar.co.uk.

Entries close next Wednesday and the first correct entry drawn will be named in next Thursday’s Talking Sport column.

Winners must be able to pick up the book Mon-Fri between 9-5pm.

The Gillette Rugby League Four Nations kicks off this weekend with England taking on Wales at Leigh on Saturday and New Zealand tackling Australia at Warrington the previous night in the opener.

“I fancy Australia but it’s probably the best team that England have had for some time,” said Dons’ boss Tony Miller.

“I think we’ve got the players but it depends on selection. I’d be temped to play Danny McGuire or Gareth Widdop at stand-off and play Kevin Sinfield at loose-forward.

“I think you need more of an X-factor at half-back when we play New Zealand or Australia than Sinfield can provide.”

New Zealand were well beaten by Australia in a one-off Test Down Under recently, but Miller isn’t reading too much into that result.

“They’ll be a threat again but I think ourselves and New Zealand are on a par,” he said.

The RFL have taken a gamble, in what are very tough economic times for a lot of the game’s mainly northern support base, by taking a double header to Wembley Stadium next weekend.

“I suppose it is a gamble, though I don’t think it’s a bad idea,” said Miller. “They’ve done a good deal with ticket prices and even though it is on TV I hope that they get a good crowd.”

The tournament will bring down the curtain on Australian super star Darren Lockyer’s career and Miller urges fans to turn out in their numbers to watch his final few games.

“He’s a rugby league legend and he’s been the dominant force in the game for well over 10 years,” he told The Star.

“He’s been a credit to the sport - not just how he plays - but also the way he has conducted himself off the pitch. I’ve never heard anything bad said about him.”

I’M not sure whether Doncaster Rovers’ keeper Neil Sullivan ever thought that he’d still be playing first-team football, let alone at Championship level, when he was 42, when he first started playing for Wimbledon back in 1988.

But not only is the former Scottish international still playing in the second tier of English football, he is playing well having won back the No 1 shirt from 20 year-old Gary Woods in recent weeks.

Sullivan’s longevity owes much to the fact that he has been relatively free of serious injury throughout his career.

Although luck obviously plays an important part in such things, there is no doubting that Sullivan’s legendary professionalism and work ethic in training has also made a massive contribution.

Sullivan, who will always be remembered as the keeper who David Beckham noticed had strayed off the line when lobbing him from 50 yards out, was effectively written off as a top keeper by the then Leeds boss Dennis Wise,

Wise, who had taken over from Kevin Blackwell, the man who had signed Sullivan, let him join Rovers on loan in the second half of the 2005-06 season,

Sullivan made the move permanent that summer and five years later he is still giving excellent service and has just signed a one-year extension to his contract. As for Wise....