Tag Archives: willie

Manchester United and Arsenal want Raheem Sterling

United and Arsenal prepare 15m bids for contract rebel Sterling

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UPDATED:

09:19 GMT, 15 December 2012

Arsenal and Manchester United have joined the race for Liverpool's contract rebel Raheem Sterling.

The 18-year-old has yet to pen a new deal at Anfield after impressing in the opening months of the season.

And that has alerted United and Arsenal, according to The Sun while Manchester City are also in the frame should Sterling decide to leave Liverpool.

Wanted: Raheem Sterling has attracted interest from several clubs

Wanted: Raheem Sterling has attracted interest from several clubs

Brendan Rodgers admitted yesterday that talks have not moved on with the player's advisors.

Sterling, who is valued at 15million, has become a first-team regular at Anfield and also made his England debut against Sweden but could yet choose to represent Jamaica, the country of his birth.

Were he to move to Old Trafford, he would become the first player to move from Liverpool since Phil Chisnall nearly 50 years ago.

Former United winger Willie Morgan told Sir Alex Ferguson earlier this week to sign Sterling.

Concerns: Brendan Rodgers admitted Sterling has yet to sign a new deal

Concerns: Brendan Rodgers admitted Sterling has yet to sign a new deal

Morgan, a former Scotland international who made 236 appearances for United between 1968 and 1975, told the Manchester Evening News: ‘I think United should attempt to buy Liverpool’s left winger Raheem Sterling.

‘Sterling
is the first winger I have seen in a long time who looks like a proper
winger. He looks very good already and I think he is going to be great.

‘If
you just let him go wide on the outside of the full-backs all the time I
think he will be a great player. He’ll frighten people to death, so
long as nobody coaches it out of him. He’s the brightest prospect out
there and would suit United.’

Hull FC 30 Catalan Dragons 10: Black and Whites close on top four

Hull FC 30 Catalan Dragons 10: Black and Whites home in on top four spot

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UPDATED:

17:14 GMT, 12 August 2012

Hull FC dismantled a powerful Catalan Dragons side at the KC Stadium in a convincing win that displayed their credentials of claiming a top-four spot.

The Black-and-Whites closed the gap between themselves and the French side to two points as Ben Crooks grabbed his fourth try in as many games and Jamie Foster scored 14 points.

Willie Manu grabbed the first try of the match before Vincent Duport hit back for the Dragons to level it up. Either side of the break Lineham, Briscoe and Chris Green extended the home side's lead to 24-6 and, after Duport pulled a try back, Foster sealed it with a late try in the corner.

Try time: Tom Lineham scores under pressure from Clint Greenshields

Try time: Tom Lineham scores under pressure from Clint Greenshields

The Dragons came into the game level on points with both St Helens and Leeds Rhinos in fourth spot but in the 10th minute Hull had their first good field position as Manu's tackle dislodged the ball from Damien Blanch inside the French side's 20.

The Airlie Birds were over seconds later when a short pass from Danny Houghton found Manu for the try under the posts, and Foster added the two points.

A quarter of an hour in Lineham looked to be on his way to a sensational long-range try but a penalty was called against his side for obstruction.

Wrapped up: David Ferriol is tackled by Martin Aspinwall and Andy Lynch (right)

Wrapped up: David Ferriol is tackled by Martin Aspinwall and Andy Lynch (right)

That gave the visitors good position and some nice hands from Louis Anderson allowed Duport to crash over in the corner, Scott Dureau levelling it up with the conversion from the touchline.

After seeing off some concerted pressure from the Dragons, FC forced a drop-out on the half-hour from a well executed Brett Seymour grubber kick. Jordan Turner sent Lineham on his way to score in the corner – showing great finishing skills in the process – before Foster converted for a six-point lead.

Hull started the second half the stronger with a nice chip from Ryan McGoldrick forcing a drop-out after five minutes. Manu broke two tackles whilst stepping inside and supplied the on-rushing Chris Green for the try under the posts, Foster converting again to extend the lead to 12.

Louis Anderson

The visitors found themselves close to the FC line on 50 minutes, but a kick from Dureau was blocked and picked up by Briscoe, and the Featherstone-born player then ran 90 metres untouched for a great try.

FC extended their lead further nine minutes later to 18 with a penalty by Foster.

The Dragons regained the ball from the restart and reduced the gap to 14 when Duport grabbed his second try by bulldozing his way over in the corner.

With just over 10 minutes to go they forced a drop-out, but subsequent pressure was not utilised as Remi Casty knocked on in a good position.
Foster then sealed the win for FC as he went over the in the corner to push his side back up to sixth in the table.

Warrington 40 Hull 18: Match report

Warrington 40 Hull 18: Atkins hat-trick boosts high-flying Wolves

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UPDATED:

16:21 GMT, 24 June 2012

A hat-trick of tries from England centre Ryan Atkins helped Warrington to victory over Hull following a commanding second-half display to keep the pressure on Stobart Super League leaders Wigan.

In front of watching England boss Steve McNamara, Atkins produced a superb all-round performance to help his side cut Wigan's lead at the top to just a point before the Warriors meet Widnes on Monday night.

Atkins claimed two tries in an evenly contested first half which saw the sides level at 18-18 at half time but his third try of the afternoon was the gamebreaker.

No way through Hull FC's Martin Aspinwall (second right) on the charge

No way through Hull FC's Martin Aspinwall (second right) on the charge

With the Wolves holding a six point
advantage at 24-18 and Hull down to 12-men after the sin-binning of
Willie Manu, Atkins showed tremendous power and pace to race 30 metres
to score a superb individual try.

The Wolves scored 22 unanswered
points in the second half with further tries from Lee Briers, Garreth
Carvell and Joel Monaghan to add to first-half efforts from Chris Riley
and two from Atkins while Gareth O'Brien landed six conversions from
seven attempts.

Hull grabbed tries through Kirk Yeaman, Manu and Joe Westerman and three goals from Danny Tickle in defeat.

It was the visitors who were quickest
out of the blocks, however, as they stunned the home side with two
tries in the opening eight minutes in a superb opening.

Firstly a wonderful overhead pass from Manu allowed Yeaman to score the opening try of the game after six minutes.

Then two minutes later Yeaman turned
provider as he released Tom Briscoe down the left wing and his inside
pass allowed Manu to touch down to which Tickle converted to give Hull
an early 10-0 advantage.

Warrington crossed for their first
try of the game two minutes later as Carvell charged down Brett
Seymour's kick and Atkins scooped up the loose ball to race clear to
score, with O'Brien converting.

But Hull then increased their lead as
Richard Horne's pass sent Westerman into space and the Hull loose
forward skipped out of a couple of attempted tackles to dive over.

But two tries in three minutes from the Wolves edged the home side in front late in the half.

An Atkins pass allowed Riley to
squeeze over in the corner for a well taken try from the winger and
three minutes later Briers and O' Brien combined to send Atkins over for
his second try of the game.

O'Brien landed both conversions to edge Warrington in front at 18-16.
But in the final seconds of the half
Warrington were penalised for offside and Tickle booted over the
resulting penalty to level matters at 18-18 at half time.

It was the home side who claimed the
vital first try of the second half when 10 minutes after the restart it
was Briers who threw an outrageous dummy and managed to scramble over to
the left the posts to which O'Brien again converted.

Hull's cause wasn't helped when Manu
was sent to the sin-bin for interference after his Hull side had been
given a warning from referee Ben Thaler.

And the Wolves scored two tries in
his absence to seal the win as Atkins claimed his hat-trick try and
Carvell also touched down against his former club.

Warrington put the seal on what was a
convincing victory in the end as Chris Bridge sent Monaghan over for a
try eight minutes from time.

St Helens sign second row Willie Manu

Brown makes first move at St Helens by signing Manu after second rower turns down Hull deal

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UPDATED:

16:55 GMT, 11 June 2012

St Helens have announced the signing of Hull second rower Willie Manu on a two-year contract.

The 32-year-old Tonga international rejected the offer of a new deal from Hull and becomes the first signing for Nathan Brown, who takes over as head coach at St Helens from November.

Manu, currently with the Exiles squad preparing for Saturday's game against England at Langtree Park, has been a model of consistency since joining Hull from Castleford six years ago and has missed only three matches in the last three seasons.

On the move: Willie Manu has signed for St Helens

On the move: Willie Manu has signed for St Helens

'Willie is one of the best back-row forwards in rugby league and will introduce a new dimension to our game,' said St Helens chairman Eamonn McManus.

'He is a devastating runner with a phenomenal workrate and is one of the league's top tackle-bust makers.

'He is also a great defender too and we look forward to welcoming him next season.'
Manu, who played for Wests Tigers, South Sydney and St George Illawarra before coming to Super League, was briefly a member of England coach Steve McNamara's training squad in 2010 after qualifying through residency.

He was Hull's player of the year in 2011 but, after rejecting their final offer, was given permission to talk to other clubs, who included Catalan Dragons.

McManus added: 'I would like thank Hull FC for allowing us permission to speak to Willie and express my appreciation for the way the club has conducted itself during the negotiations.'

Manu could be joined at Langtree Park by his current Hull team-mate Jordan Turner, the 23-year-old former Salford centre who is also out of contract at the KC Stadium at the end of the year.

Wakefield 32 Hull 30: Wildcats complete stunning comeback

Wakefield 32 Hull 30: Wildcats' thrilling fightback so sweet for Agar

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UPDATED:

17:05 GMT, 10 June 2012

Hull FC surrendered a winning position for the third successive week as Wakefield Wildcats overturned a 20-point deficit to claim a memorable Stobart Super League victory.

Three tries in 10 second half minutes turned the tide in the Wildcats' favour at the Rapid Solicitors Stadium to set up a grandstand finish, with Ali Lauitiiti then barging over for the match-winning score to end Hull's hopes of going third in the table.

Thriller: Ali Lauitiiti (centre) celebrates the winning try, Wakefield's sixth

Thriller: Ali Lauitiiti (centre) celebrates the winning try, Wakefield's sixth

The victory was sweet revenge for Wakefield coach Richard Agar, sacked by Hull at the end of last season after four seasons in charge of the Airlie Birds.

Hull had wasted countless chances to put St Helens away a week earlier and started in a similar manner as they went empty-handed despite camping inside the Wakefield half.

It took a moment of magic from star second-row Willie Manu to finally break the deadlock for Hull, and the Tongan warmed up for next week's Exiles game against England with a try that demonstrated the task in hand for Steve McNamara's men.

Danny Tickle's conversion and penalty minutes later put Hull eight points clear and their advantage was stretched to 14 points when Brett Seymour made the most of Vince Mellars' missed tackle to stroll through the Wakefield defence and score.

The Wildcats were having trouble getting out of their own half but when Hull loose-forward Joe Westerman was put on report for a tackle on Oli Wilkes, the hosts took full advantage of their field position.

In-form scrum-half Tim Smith provided the pinpoint kick, with centre Dean Collis providing the finish in the corner as he touched down to give Wakefield a way back into the game.

Hull hit straight back through teenage winger Ben Crooks, but it was Wakefield who were finishing the half the stronger of the two sides and when the Hull defence missed a series of tackles through the middle of the pitch winger Peter Fox was on hand to break free and race 40 metres to score under the posts.

Wakefield will have taken heart from Fox's try as they started the second half, but within six minutes they found themselves trailing by 20 points after a quick-fire double for Hull centre Kirk Yeaman, making his return from three months on the sidelines following foot surgery.

Hull looked like running away with the game, but Wakefield were not done and again came back with Paul Sykes taking advantage after a deflected kick to score.

Former Hull player Danny Washbrook shrugged off a tackle by Seymour to score and the hosts were in the ascendancy and sniffing victory at only eight points behind.

A remarkable 10 minute period for Wakefield was then capped when Kyle Amor powered his way over the try line under the Hull posts.

Hull were out on their feet and when hooker Danny Houghton and half-back Jamie Ellis hobbled off they looked there for the taking.

Wakefield knew that and after continuing to press they got their reward when Sykes sent Lauitiiti over to give them the lead for the first time with seven minute remaining.

A nervous finish ensued but with Hull unable to get their hands on the ball, Wakefield were able to hold on for a memorable victory.

London Broncos 12 Hull FC 14

London Broncos 12 Hull FC 14: Tickle has last laugh for play-off chasing visitors

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UPDATED:

16:30 GMT, 20 May 2012

Danny Tickle's late penalty proved crucial as Hull FC edged out the London Broncos in a tight contest at Gillingham's Priestfield Stadium.

Tickle's successful kick 12 minutes from time gave Hull an eight-point lead and London were unable to make up that gap despite going over for a converted try soon after.

Hull's victory, which also saw Tickle convert tries from Ben Crooks and Richard Whiting, helps the Black and Whites maintain their play-off push while the Broncos continue to struggle at the wrong end of the table after losing a match they could easily have won.

Kicking king: Danny Tickle scored a late penalty to help Hull to victory

Kicking king: Danny Tickle scored a late penalty to help Hull to victory

The hosts were missing Matt Cook after he picked up a knock in the Challenge Cup quarter-final defeat at Huddersfield last weekend.

The Broncos mixed things up by moving Dan Sarginson to stand-off, with Michael Witt switching to hooker and Omari Caro starting on the wing.

But there was better injury news for the visitors, with both Joe Westerman (shoulder) and Richard Horne (groin) returning among the replacements.

While Hull entered the game buoyed by their recent victory over Leeds, and with a top-eight finish pretty much in the bag, the Londoners found themselves in a scrap to avoid being cut adrift at the foot of the Super League table.

Rob Powell's men had just two wins to their name all season, and came up short when they took their last home game on the road, a disappointing loss to Bradford at Leyton Orient.

But they started the game on the front foot, with repeated sets in the Hull half finally seeing Kieran Dixon speed in at the corner inside the first 10 minutes.

Going nowhere: Daniel Sarginson is tackled by Danny Houghton and Willie Manu

Going nowhere: Daniel Sarginson is tackled by Danny Houghton and Willie Manu

Scrum-half Craig Gower was pulling all the strings, with the veteran's kicking game pinning Hull back.

The visitors were producing a very sloppy display, with handling errors to the fore.

But with the hosts failing to cash in their ascendancy, and Sarginson being forced to depart with a head injury, Hull struck back midway through the half with a try from Crooks after good work from Willie Manu.

Gower thought he had given London the lead again just before the break when he stretched over, only for referee Thierry Alibert to chalk it off for crossing.

The sloppiness continued after the interval, with handling errors stopping Hull gaining any momentum.

But it was Manu again that got them going, showing great strength to move the visitors to the line, with Whiting applying the finishing touch on 50 minutes.

In vain: Kieran Dixon scores a try for London Broncos but they slipped to defeat

In vain: Kieran Dixon scores a try for London Broncos but they slipped to defeat

The Broncos were having plenty of possession, but a lack of creativity was proving their undoing.

And as the half progressed the Black and Whites finally began exerting some authority, Horne's kicking pinning London back at their sticks.

The game was still tight on the scoreboard, but Hull nudged further ahead when Tickle booted a penalty after Shane Rodney transgressed.

The Broncos came straight back though, Michael Robertson cashing in with a try on 72 minutes after Gower's kick confused the Hull defence.

The Londoners continued to press, but were unable to find that decisive score.

Willie Manu to leave Hull

Hull resigned to losing Manu after forward is given permission to talk to other clubs

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UPDATED:

18:10 GMT, 30 April 2012

Hull have admitted failure in their battle to hold onto second row forward Willie Manu.

The 32-year-old Tonga international, who is out of contract at the end of the season, has been given permission to speak to other clubs after repeatedly turning down offers of a new deal from the Black and Whites.

St Helens and Catalan Dragons are thought to be competing for the signature of Manu, who has been a major success since joining Hull from Castleford in 2007 and is in the Exiles squad for the mid-season internationals against England.

Exit: Hull FC's Willie Manu will leave at the end of the season

Exit: Hull FC's Willie Manu will leave at the end of the season

Hull director of rugby Shaun McRae said: 'We're obviously disappointed that Willie has decided to finish his career away from Hull FC but we wish him well for the future.

'We made Willie a number of large offers that would have made him considerably one of the highest earners at the club but he has decided to look for a contact elsewhere.'

Although Hull were keen to keep Manu, they have a ready-made replacement in England international Gareth Ellis, who has agreed a three-year contract from 2013, and are hoping to tie his second-row partner Danny Tickle to a new deal.

Tidal Bay lands bet365 Gold Cup at Sandown

Tidal Bay gains deserved big-race success with bet365 Gold Cup victory

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UPDATED:

16:30 GMT, 28 April 2012

Tidal Bay put up a mighty
weight-carrying performance to win the bet365 Gold Cup Chase on the last
day of the jumps season at Sandown.

It was yet another big-race success
for Paul Nicholls, who retained his trainers' title, and for jockey
Daryl Jacob after the two teamed up to win the John Smith's Grand
National with Neptune Collonges.

It also provided more vindication
for owner Graham Wylie, who shared his string between Nicholls and top
Irish trainer Willie Mullins when Howard Johnson was warned off.

Muddy marvellous: Tidal Bay (right) stayed on to win the bet365 Gold Cup from Roalco De Farges

Muddy marvellous: Tidal Bay (right) stayed on to win the bet365 Gold Cup from Roalco De Farges

Although Tidal Bay (9-1) won the
Arkle Trophy in 2008, he has never lived up to those expectations, but
his class shone through in the difficult ground conditions despite being
saddled with top weight.

The talented but quirky 11-year-old
was on a going day right from the start as he settled beautifully
towards the rear of the pack in the early stages.

He made stealthy progress on the final circuit to join the leaders at the third-last fence.

He jumped ahead of Roalco de Farges at the final fence and amazingly pulled away up the hill to win by 15 lengths.

Roalco de Farges (7-1) was seven lengths ahead of the third Any Currency (16-1) with Vic Venturi a gallant fourth (25-1).

Nicholls said: 'I knew he ran really well over hurdles at Aintree the other day, but he nearly got brought down on the far side.

Bay's day: Tidal Bay slogged up the Sandown hill to land the big prize

Bay's day: Tidal Bay slogged up the Sandown hill to land the big prize

'He flew up the straight and finished fourth. He might have finished second but for that and that race was a prep for this.

'When it kept on raining to slow the
ground down, it was always going to suit him. We knew they would go that
bit slower and it would give him time to get his confidence.

'If it had been quick ground, it might have rushed him and he would not have jumped well enough.

'Everything was right for him today for the first time for a long time.

'He obviously has had class over the years but it has never fitted in right.'

Jacob said: 'He was travelling well and I didn't want to get there too soon. I could afford to take my time.

Big double: Jacob and Sanctuaire tool the bet365.com Celebration Chase

Big double: Jacob and Sanctuaire tool the bet365.com Celebration Chase

'He jumped from fence to fence and winged the last two. I gave him a kick in the belly and off he went.'

Nicholls and Jacob also took the
other main jumps race on the mixed card, the bet365.com Celebration
Chase with Sanctuaire (9-2).

Another smart but unpredictable individual, the six-year-old put in a tremendous round of jumping as he made all.

Taking no prisoners, he soon opened up a massive lead while his rivals struggled to keep up.

He never looked like being caught as
he swept to victory by 17 lengths from Somersby with Dan Breen a further
length and three-quarters away in third.

Nicholls said: 'He doesn't want a lot
of racing. It's taken us two years to work out how to train him and
what he needs to be at his best. “I suspect he will run in the Tingle
Creek back here next. That would probably be the right thing to do.'

Sanctuaire was quoted at 8-1 with BetVictor for the Queen Mother Champion Chase at Cheltenham in March.

Gibb and take: Gibb River (right) and Jeremiah McGrath win the bet365 Handicap Hurdle

Gibb and take: Gibb River (right) and Jeremiah McGrath win the bet365 Handicap Hurdle

Carrying a big weight on heavy ground held no fears for Gibb River (11-1), who finally opened his account for the season in the bet365 Handicap Hurdle.

The Nicky Henderson-trained six-year-old was never far off the pace and wore down long-time leader Arab League under 5lb claimer Jeremiah McGrath to score by half a length.

Lexi's Boy put up a game performance under Jason Maguire as he made all in the bet365 Josh Gifford Juvenile Handicap Hurdle.

Trainer Donald McCain registered his 150th success of the campaign on Friday and Lexi's Boy (9-1) set up a good final day for the Cholmondeley handler, who went on to have a double at Market Rasen.

Willie Mullins dominates at Punchestown

Dominant Mullins goes down a storm in turbulent Punchestown weather

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UPDATED:

07:23 GMT, 26 April 2012

Champion Irish trainer Willie Mullins dominated on a truncated Punchestown card run in gruelling conditions.

Heavy rain, mixed with strong winds, forced the two chases to be scrapped on the day, including the feature Gold Cup, but that did not stop the County Carlow handler claiming four winners on an all-hurdles and bumper card which totalled five races.

Champagne Fever was the headline act as he followed up his Cheltenham success by making every post a winning one in the betchronicle.com Champion INH Flat Race.

Here you go Dad: Pat Mullins wins another race for his father on Flash of Glory

Here you go Dad: Pat Mullins wins another race for his father on Flash of Glory

The grey, owned by Rich Ricci, had demonstrated his class when winning the Weatherbys Champion Bumper and showed here he has guts to match.

The tiring ground took its toll on several of the field, including Cheltenham runner-up New Year's Eve, who was a spent force some way from home.

Champagne Fever had to show tremendous determination to shrug off a strong challenge from Jeremy Scott's Melodic Rendezvous in the straight.

Amazingly the 11-4 favourite pulled away in the final furlong for the trainer's son, Patrick, to score by seven and a half lengths. Mullins' other runner, Mozoltov, was third.

The winning trainer said: “That was an extraordinary performance – he is a super horse.

'I don't know what we'll do next year; we were thinking of going straight over fences like we did with Florida Pearl (after he won the Cheltenham bumper), but I'm not sure now.

'I thought he was out on his feet in the straight, but Patrick said he was just idling. We know that the third (Mozoltov) is a good horse but Champagne Fever obviously stays well and is a good jumper.

'He is one that we are really looking forward to and has huge ability.'

Mullins junior doubled up, and made it four for his father, as Flash Of Genius (11-4 favourite) proved aptly named for the pair in the At The Races INH Flat Race, this time in the Gigginstown House Stud colours.

Marasonnien (12-1) headed a clean sweep for Mullins – and Ricci – in the Irish Daily Mirror War Of Attrition Novice Hurdle.

The three-mile Grade One contest was run at a very sensible pace in the wet ground and there were many in with chances coming to the third-last flight.

Paul Townend brought Marasonnien to lead at the penultimate hurdle and the six-year-old kept on strongly to win by three lengths from Vesper Bell (14-1) with the 7-2 favourite Sous Les Cieux only third. All three carried the Ricci colours.

Mullins said: 'I don't think I've ever done that before and it's great for the owners. The winner loved the ground and Ruby (Walsh) said that Sous Les Cieux didn't stay so he'll step back in trip.

'I would think all three of them will go over fences. They are three stayers that we thought were the types to make chasers when we got them.'

Townend added: 'He's a fine size of a horse and has plenty of scope. They were probably going too slow for him. He has a nice future and he had his day today.'

Loch Ard got the ball rolling for the Mullins team as he ran out a convincing winner of the Louis Fitzgerald Hotel Hurdle.

Wrekin Rock made a brave bid to lead all the way but he was headed by Walsh on Mullins' charge before the final flight, where he came down.

That left the 6-4 favourite to bound clear and score by 33 lengths from Un Beau Matin with Dysios third.

We'll try to find another race for him if the weather stays like this but he's on the team for France and will probably go for the four-year-old hurdle at Auteuil next,' said Mullins.

Walsh said: 'Loch Ard travelled well, jumped well and found plenty in. He's a fairish horse and he did it well.

'The ground isn't too bad – the water is lying on top but it's all surface water. There's a good bottom to it and it is perfectly safe.'

Shamiran (12-1) got the better of British raider Weekend Millionair in the Martinstown Opportunity Series Final Handicap Hurdle.

The two principals were always to the fore and had the race between them as Shamiran (12-1)took it up just before the final flight in the hands of Ian McCarthy.

He pulled away from the David Pipe-trained runner to score by two and three-quarter lengths for County Kildare trainer Stephen Nolan.

Snooker World Championship: Steel yourselves for another potty fortnight

Steel yourselves for another potty fortnight at Snooker's World Championship

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UPDATED:

22:42 GMT, 19 April 2012

Steve Davis bites his chalk in frustration

Sheffield's Crucible Theatre is an unremarkable breeze-block building which houses snooker's shrine. It holds only 950 spectators but therein lies the essence of the drama of the World Championship. Ivan Speck spoke to four icons of the sport's heyday about this year's tournament, which starts on Saturday: Steve Davis (right), who won six world titles in the 1980s; Dennis Taylor, who denied him another in the most famous match of all in 1985; Willie Thorne and John Virgo. All four are part of the BBC commentary team.

So, what makes the Crucible different to any other venue

WILLIE THORNE: Just as Wimbledon means tennis, so The Crucible means snooker. I haven't played professionally for 12 years but I still get a buzz when I drive into Sheffield. I'm a bit concerned that the World Championship could be taken away from The Crucible in two or three years if China comes up with the money. That would be such a retrograde step.

JOHN VIRGO: It's the intimacy – and very few sporting venues have that. You can hear the audience breathing, especially during the two-table situation. It's the perfect setting. Any larger and you might feel too far away from the players.

STEVE DAVIS: History and the fact that it is the World Championship both come into it, but also the actual room lends itself so well to the gladiatorial aspect of snooker. You see pictures of amphitheatres in days gone past, the Coliseum. Now imagine that on a far smaller, more intimate level, but still with people baying for blood. The Crucible has a bit of that about it. There is no hiding place.

Magic moment: Dennis Taylor claims title in 1985

Magic moment: Dennis Taylor claims title in 1985

You have all excelled in that arena What are your personal favourite moments

DENNIS TAYLOR (laughing, because really there was no explanation needed): I had some great moments, but it is that 1985 final. When I watch the finals now from the commentary box, I still think, 'How did I play and cope with the pressure, especially the way that final panned out'

DAVIS: That same 1985 final because it defined my career and it hasn't done me one iota of damage. I had the privilege of attempting that shot, that final black. It was my best and worst moment all rolled into one. Nothing I have experienced in life has felt what it was like to be involved in that final, involved in that moment and what happened afterwards.

VIRGO: Getting to the semi-finals in 1979. The feeling of playing in the one-table scenario is strange because the table suddenly feels so far away. I didn't get to the final, but looking back I can appreciate getting to that stage.

THORNE: Probably beating Terry Griffiths when he was champion. I lost to Alex Higgins in 1982 but probably played some of the best snooker of my career. I lost 13-10 or 13-11 and he went on to win the championship that year.

john virgo

So close: Virgo reached semi-finals

The Crucible is also about the anecdotes and the humour within the drama. What has made you smile

TAYLOR: The funniest moment for me was when Bill Werbeniuk broke wind. He was going for the highest break, on 80-something, and had three reds left. You know the amount of lager he used to drink, he threw his leg up on to the table and broke wind. It was the loudest noise that ever echoed around The Crucible. Bill went bright red. He slipped off the table, turned to the crowd and said: 'Who did that'

THORNE: A couple of years ago, Liang Wenbo thought his name was being called out – he didn't speak very much English – and he walked out when the MC was actually introducing the referee. He came through the curtain and realised he'd made a mistake.

VIRGO: Ted Lowe was introducing the players once and the centre partition wall started to drop on his head. There's always something happening like people falling asleep in the front row. Again, it's partly down to the intimacy, which adds to the atmosphere.

Looking ahead to this year, the youngsters are starting to come through. Judd Trump thrilled us last year when he reached the final. Can he go one step further this time and what do you think about 17-year-old Belgian Luca Brecel

VIRGO: Judd was like a breath of fresh air last year. We hadn't so much lost Jimmy White as lost that kind of player that the fans could support. Judd has come at the perfect time. Yes, he likes the limelight, likes the publicity but that's no bad thing. He's got great talent and I think he's the future.

THORNE: It will be interesting to me to see how Luca goes on. He's got a tough draw. I think Stephen Maguire is liable to be too clever for him. You can count on the fingers of one hand the number of rookies who have won their first match at The Crucible.

DAVIS: Judd has been a revelation. He's quite an amazing player, a big occasion player. Having said that, the fact that this country has slowly gone off the boil for snooker will reflect itself in the future. I expect that the majority of the young players are going to come through from China because that's where the game is the most popular.

Ronnie O'Sullivan

One to beat: Ronnie O'Sullivan

Let's turn to the enigma that is Ronnie O'Sullivan. Has he got another world title in him

THORNE: Without a shadow of doubt. It's how much he wants it. The thing is that people are not frightened of him any more. That's a problem for Ronnie. People are now standing up to him and he doesn't like that.

VIRGO: Yes. His ability is second to none. They used to say that you didn't reach your peak until your mid-30s (Ronnie is 36). It's probably mid-20s now. From what I see, he's still got the all-round game and a good safety game. His only slight weakness is his long potting.

TAYLOR: I thought Ronnie could have overtaken Stephen Hendry's record of seven world titles. Now it's doubtful. He's won three times and, if Ronnie has put in the preparation, not just on the table but mentally as well, he's still the one to beat.

And finally, the biggest question, who is going to win

TAYLOR: It's the most wide open championship for a number of years but I'll go for John Higgins to retain his title.

THORNE: Ronnie O'Sullivan or Shaun Murphy.

VIRGO: On talent, I think Mark Allen is ready to break through.

DAVIS: I could make a case for a dozen players but I have a sneaking feeling about Neil Robertson.

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