Rupert Murdoch's Australian Super League has been forced into the ignominious climb-down of cancelling its first round of fixtures this weekend.
The rebel competition, which was due to kick off on Friday, has been blocked by a temporary injunction in Sydney, following a ruling in the Federal Court that it is unlawful.
In another temporary ruling, Judge James Burchett ordered the eight clubs who have signed to Murdoch's New Corporation to play in the rival Australian 's 20-team competition, which is also due to begin this weekend.
The ARL might also delay its kick-off, however, because players from those eight breakaway clubs have insisted that they will not play in the ARL's competition. That raises the spectre of Super League-aligned clubs such as the Brisbane Broncos and the Canberra Raiders fielding "back-yard" sides of reserves and juniors in the ARL competition, thus reducing it to a farce.
"We intend to start this weekend, subject to a meeting with all the clubs tomorrow," the ARL's chairman, Ken Arthurson, said.
One club, the Perth-based Western Reds, are planning a six week tour to Britain if Super League is prevented from going ahead, while one of Australia's leading players, Canberra's Laurie Daley, says he is considering playing Australian Rules as well as joining a British club.
Both sides will make further submissions to the judge next Wednesday, and Super League is to appeal against the decisions so far. Its dream of a new elite competition which can start in the foreseeable future is, however, in tatters. That also leaves an inevitable question mark over the fate of the parallel organisation in Britain, where clubs accepted an pounds 87m offer from Murdoch to link up with Super League.
The League in Britain was refusing to comment yesterday, but an emergency meeting of its board of directors is scheduled for tomorrow. British clubs, already alarmed by their financial position, need the prospect of the projected play-offs in the World Club Championship this October. However, like the planned Super League tour of Australia and New Zealand, that now hangs in the balance.
Brian Smith, the coach and chief executive of the Bradford Bulls, who maintains close links with both factions in Australia, believes that those vital post-season events might yet be salvaged. "The ARL needs the income as well and Ken Arthurson will be statesman-like enough to offer that option to Britain," he said.
That would raise questions, though, over whether the ARL would be prepared to come to terms with a British administration under its present leadership and whether News Corporation would let Britain play against the ARL.
"My feeling is that the play-offs are safe," Smith said at the launch of a new sponsorship deal with Compaq Computers that will see the Bulls' players subject to computerised analysis. Bradford will play their Silk Cut Challenge Cup semi-final against Leeds in Compaq-sponsored and redesigned shirts, as well as the Wembley final - if they win - and the forthcoming European Super League season.
That match, on 23 March, has been allocated to the Alfred McAlpine Stadium in Huddersfield, but Huddersfield's new signing, Garry Schofield, will not be able to play for his former club, Leeds, on loan. "We have been approached, but it is a non-starter," Huddersfield's managing director, Les Coulter, said.
The other semi-final, between St Helens and Widnes on 9 March, will be played at Wigan's Central Park. Saints have put their long-serving Australian, Phil Veivers, who has been interesting Huddersfield, on the transfer list at pounds 25,000.
The 31-year-old Australian, who is in his 12th season at Knowsley Road, had only been offered a contract for the Centenary season and not a longer- term Super League one. However, he will be allowed to complete his benefit, which will include a testimonial match.Reuse content