Second Division clubs planning legal action over their exclusion from Super League discussions fear the threat of a complete split engineered by their bigger brethren. They have been told that the outcome of continued attempts to block the Super League will be that the clubs who are enthusiastic about it will go it alone, under Rupert Murdoch's banner.
Eight clubs are due to consult a barrister today over what they claim has been an unconstitutional lack of consultation. The new Second Division champions, Keighley, are meanwhile to launch on Friday their legal action against the Rugby League, which yesterday denied any knowledge of a breakaway threat.
The winners of an increasingly complex war so far are Britain's elite players. Martin Offiah yesterday accepted an enhanced and extended contract, partly financed by Murdoch's company, News Limited, which will keep him at Wigan until 1999. It does not match the £1m which he was reputedly offered to play in the Australian Rugby League's competition in Australia. "But my decision was based on a desire to play for my country," he said. "I think the Super League is the way to go."
Two other Wigan players, Martin Dermott and Andy Farrell, have also agreed new, "Murdochised" contracts rather than taking up ARL offers.
St Helens have also had help from News Limited in tying up their Test players - Bobby Goulding, Alan Hunte, Sonny Nickle and Chris Joynt - as well as their young full-back, Steve Prescott. Nigel Wright, the Wigan stand-off now on loan at Wakefield, is another to sign up.
Talks were going on last night about a deal through which Widnes could be helped to retain the services of John Devereux, the former Welsh rugby union international who is one of the ARL's main targets.
It was not all good news for Wigan, however. Martin Hall and Gary Connolly are reputed to be among the first British players to agree post-dated deals to join the ARL when their current contracts expire.
The RFL chief executive, Maurice Lindsay, said: "We are aware the Australians are trying to sign all the Great Britain team. We may lose the odd player but are satisfied we have the backbone of the squad."
Jason Robinson, who is also the subject of the tug-of-war between Britain and Australia, is running out of time in his bid to be fit to play for Wigan at Wembley on Saturday. A final decision will be made this afternoon, with the 19-year-old Kris Radlinski standing by to replace Robinson if he fails to come through a fitness test on his foot.
The Wigan coach, Graeme West, has opted to give the two places in contention in the pack to Neil Cowie and Mick Cassidy, with Farrell on the substitutes' bench and Terry O'Connor missing out altogether. "He is the youngest of the three and he has a great future in front of him," West said. The other place on the bench goes to Paul Atcheson, whose ability to play full-back and thus release the versatile Henry Paul to move elsewhere, has won him the vote over Barrie-Jon Mather. Leeds, still trying to keep Ellery Hanley out of the ARL's clutches, are due to name their side tomorrow.
The game's international board has given its full backing to this October's Centenary World Cup - possibly the only thing that it will be able to agree on during its meeting in London. The ARL chairman, Ken Arthurson, is considering legal action over the cancellation of Great Britain's scheduled tour to Australia next summer. There is now to be a shortened tour, involving only Super League opposition, next October.
n Featherstone Rovers' members have voted against a merger with Castleford and Wakefield, or with Wakefield alone, but the club is to call a special meeting next week before deciding its course of action.
Wigan (v Leeds, Silk Cut Challenge Cup final, Wembley, Saturday): Paul; Robinson or Radlinski, Tuigamala, Connolly, Offiah; Botica, Edwards; Skerrett, Hall, Cowie, Betts, Cassidy, Clarke. Substitutes: Atcheson, Farrell.