European Super League blueprint is unveiled

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The Independent Online
Rugby League

DAVE HADFIELD

The game's best-ever fixture list was unveiled yesterday - and no less an authority than Mal Meninga says that it will all actually happen.

An opening day European Super League line-up that includes Sheffield Eagles at Paris, followed by a wealth of international competition; it all sounded, as even the most sceptical over the intentions of News Ltd would have to admit, absolutely splendid.

On the face of it, the decision of all rugby league's governing bodies apart from Australia to go along with Rupert Murdoch and his "global vision" will produce a wealth of goodies.

That first European Super League season, starting in March, for instance, will lead to play-offs between the top four clubs in Europe and Australasia, producing a World Club Championship Final in Australia next September.

Although the rift with the Australian means, inevitably, that the scheduled Lions tour there next summer will not take place, it is replaced, in this new blueprint, by a tour taking in Tests in Papua New Guinea, Australia and New Zealand next autumn.

All that seems to hinge heavily on Super League winning its court case against the ARL. That is something which Meninga, one of Australia's greatest players before becoming a highly-effective figurehead for the break-away Super League, firmly believes it will do.

"Our lawyers say we have a 90 per cent chance of winning," he said, matching exactly the odds that the ARL's lawyers have guaranteed their side. "But, however the case goes, we will have a very, very competitive Super League starting in March.''

The details of the European Super League remain to be thrashed out. The fixtures released yesterday only specify matches "on the weekend of...'' The demands of Sky Television, the driving force behind the operation, however, point to games on Friday, Saturday, Sunday and - in the winter football slot - Monday evenings.

Apart from Paris, whose credentials were underlined by the presence of Jacques Fouroux, the Super League - at least until Newcastle and/or Cardiff are fast-tacked in at some future date - will look curiously like the current top division played in better weather.

Apart from the global element of the World Club Championship, Super League promises an annual World Nines in Fiji, an Oceania Cup involving the South Pacific nations, a three-cornered contest for New South Wales, Queensland and New Zealand, and a Five Nations Championship eventually bringing in Ireland and Scotland as well as England, Wales and France.

SUPER LEAGUE FIXTURES

FIRST-DAY MATCHES: 31 March: Bradford Bulls v Castleford; Halifax v London Broncos; Leeds v Warrington; Paris v Sheffield Eagles; Wigan v Oldham; Workington Town v St Helens.

MAJOR DATES: February 1996: Fiji Nines. 29/31 March: Opening round of European Super League. 27 April: Silk Cup Challenge Cup Final (Wembley). May: Oceania Cup. Winners or composite side to tour Britain and Ireland. June: Tri-Series (Australia/New Zealand). 12 June: England v France (Gateshead). 19 June: France v Wales (Paris). 26 June: Wales v England (Cardiff); Scotland v Ireland (venue tba). 1 September: European Super League Premiership Play-Offs (1 v 4, 2 v 3). 8 September: Premiership Final, plus Divisional Final and Academy Final (Old Trafford). 14 September: Super League World Club Championships (European 1 v Australasian 4, European 2 v Australian 3 in Britain; reverse fixtures in Australasia). 20 September: European and Australian semi-finals. 28 September: World Club Championship Final (Australia). 29 September: GB v PNG (Port Moresby). 5 October: GB v Australia (Townsville). 13 October: GB v Australia (Brisbane). 20 October: GB v Australia (Sydney Cricket Ground). 27 October: GB v New Zealand (Auckland). 3 November: GB v New Zealand (Christchurch).

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