British tours will survive the Super League fall-out

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The Independent Online
Something has been salvaged from the wreckage of Test rugby league with the announcement that there will be a tour, but not as we know it, to Australia and New Zealand in October next year.

The visit replaces the traditional Lions Tour which was scheduled to take place next summer, by which time the European Super League will be up and running.

In accordance with the contract with News Limited, Great Britain will play only Super League opposition in three internationals and two other matches in Australia.

Most, but by no means all, of the current Test team have committed themselves to Rupert Murdoch's Super League, but players of the calibre of Rod Wishart, Paul Harragon, David Fairleigh, Steve Menzies and Brad Fittler would not be available.

The Australian domestic season, be it ARL or Super League, will have finished and any trans-global play-offs will have taken place by the time Great Britain arrive, but Super League clubs such as Brisbane, Canberra and Canterbury would stay in training in order to provide opposition outside the internationals.

In New Zealand, where the entire NZRL has gone over to Murdoch, the position is simpler. The tourists could play a full New Zealand side, plus one other match, presumably against the Auckland Warriors.

Welcome though the continuation of something approximating to Test rugby is, this falls some way short of a full-scale tour, with its up-country games and possible side trips to play in Papua New Guinea and, now, Fiji and Tonga.

Unless there is a rapprochement between the two warring factions Down Under, top British players will be in the strange position of playing Australia in installments. The official ARL will send a side to the Centenary World Cup in Britain this October, while the players excluded from that will form the opposition - although whether they can call themselves Australia is a moot point - a year later.

The domestic consequences of the Super League will be uppermost in many minds this weekend, nowhere more so than at Wigan, where Hull play what is likely to be their last game.

The old joke on Humberside is that the black and white half of the city refused to eat bacon, because, like Hull Kingston Rovers, it was red and white. At The Boulevard last week, fans sang: "We're black, we're white. We'll never merge with..." The rhyme was not bacon.

Despite all that, the resistance to the idea of merger is weaker in Hull than in many other rugby league towns. Both the local clubs are in such a dire state that even fervent loyalists are unable to come up with a more palatable alternative.

"We want to merge and be in the Super League," says the Rovers chairman, Barry Lilley, unequivocally. Although the talks are going well on a joint working party, however, the clubs need a 75 per cent vote from their shareholders before they can amalgamate.

Hull's shareholders gave the idea general approval at a meeting this week. They make the assumption that they will be the dominant partners and that The Boulevard will be the Super League venue, not least because its location qualifies it for millions of pounds worth of grants. But there will have to be other compromises, such as the name of the team and their strip. So tomorrow afternoon could mark the end of the road for Hull FC and their irregular black and white hoops.

Rovers have the small satisfaction of surviving as a separate entity a little longer. They finish their Second Division programme at Leigh, but they have the divisional play-offs next month to look forward to as a likely final fling.

The Halifax chairman, Tony Gartland, has resigned over plans to merge with rivals Bradford Northern and join the proposed Super League. Gartland, who has invested £850,000 into the club and rescued it from the receivers five years ago, owns 87% of the club's shares and his departure puts the Thrum Hall club's future in doubt.

Rochdale Hornets are to begin legal action against the Rugby League next week after failing to receive a satisfactory response to their complaint about being kept in the dark over Super League plans.