Clubs face player drain

Dave Hadfield reports on a new threat to English rugby league rugby league
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The Independent Online
ENGLISH rugby league clubs should brace themselves for raids on their players from Australia as the war for worldwide supreamcy in the game switches to a new battlefield. Clubs loyal to the Australian Rugby League in its struggle against Rupert Murdoch's Super League are preparing to plunder the best of British talent.

The ARL's chief executive, Ken Arthurson, has announced that he is tearing up an agreement reached with his English counterpart Maurice Lindsay earlier this year. Under that agreement, Australian clubs were limited to two overseas players and there was a complete ban on permanent transfers between the two countries for two years.

But now that rugby league in this country has embraced Murdoch, the ARL, not surprisingly, feels under no obligation to keep their side of the bargain. The threat to British clubs is even greater now that a salary cap will not apply to ARL sides. Two of the biggest, Sydney City and Manly, have strong connections with Murdoch's arch- rival, Kerry Packer, and plenty of money to throw around.

If, as seems likely, the ARL is determined to run its own competition alongside Murdoch's, there would be no better way of raising its profile and wrecking the Super League on the other side of the world than by packing it with big-name imports.

"A lot of possibilities are now opening up," said Peter Tunks, the former Oldham coach who now recruits British players for Australian clubs. "If players like Lee Jackson at South Sydney and Allan Bateman at Cronulla make a good impression during their stints here this summer, there will be nothing to stop the clubs trying to sign them permanently.

"You could get a situation where ARL clubs pick off the very best of the British players just as they come out of contract. It would not be much of a Super League in Britain with all your best players playing over here."

Tunks believes that there will be a counter-strategy from the Murdoch camp and that it is with this in mind that Lindsay has flown to Sydney this weekend. Lindsay can be expected to return to Britain with plans to sign up 50 to 60 leading British players to contracts that tie them to the new Super League. This policy could, however, make a sizeable hole in the £77m Murdoch has set aside for the European Super League."But it is great for the players," said Tunks. "One way or the other, they are going to get paid what they are worth."

Meanwhile, Huddersfield are to make their own bid for inclusion in the Super League. "We believe we meet all the criteria," said their chairman Bob Scott, yesterday.