Four-year wait for Australian Super League

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The Independent Online
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The worst fears of Rupert Murdoch's News Limited have been confirmed by a judge's ruling that Super League in Australia cannot start before the year 2000.

There is no legal barrier to the parallel Super League in Europe starting on schedule on 29 March, although there must be doubts now over whether Murdoch will pump money into the game here for four seasons while waiting to start up in Australia.

"As far as I am concerned we have won," said Ken Arthurson, the chairman of the Australian , which has successfully fought off the attempt to set up a rebel competition.

News Limited is to appeal and the company is applying for a stay of the orders against it today, but its most gloomy prognoses have come true with the series of judgments handed down by Judge James Burchett in Sydney yesterday.

It has been ordered to send the players it signed back to their ARL clubs, although News Limited will have to continue to honour contract payments to those players.

The eight clubs which tried to break away to join Super League have been told they must "assemble, train and consistently field the best possible the national [ARL] competition until 31 December, 1999." In all probability, that marks the end of the Super League dream in Australia.

The implications for the rest of the world are partly contained in an order that says: "Super League players are banned from taking part in or promoting any games conducted by the Rugby Football League in England or including any of its clubs."

That not only appears to prevent News Limited hiving off any Australian Super League players to its British competition, it also kills off any prospect of a Super League World Club Championship.

Those are the circumstances under which, according to an affidavit from the RFL tabled in Sydney, News Limited would have grounds for pulling out of its European contract. Despite that, the League here was still claiming yesterday that it had narrowly escaped something even worse.

"Our lawyers advised us that we came perilously close to the dangerous situation of having European Super League stopped," the RFL's chief executive, Maurice Lindsay, said.

"Clearly Super League in Australia has had the set-back of not being able to commence, but an appeal is to be heard quickly and we will be monitoring events. For the moment, we will devote all our attention to ensuring that the European Super League is a success."

News Limited's chief executive, Ken Cowley, said that Judge Burchett's ruling was fundamentally unsound and that a successful appeal could still allow Super League to start this year.