Coventry launch league courtship

Keith Fairbrother, once barred from Coventry rugby union club's ground when he "went north", yesterday formally brought rugby league into the club he now owns.

Coventry Bears are one of four new teams in the Rugby League Conference, the national summer competition that launched its fourth season at Coundon Road.

Along with Kingston Warriors, South London Storm and Rotherham Giants, they will compete in a conference that now includes 24 clubs playing in four divisions of six, coming together for play-offs and a grand final in August.

Fairbrother, now also Coventry's chairman, was an England rugby union international when he signed for Leigh in the 1970s.

"I was banned from the ground," he said. "But thankfully we are all back in the land of the living now. We've all got rugby at heart, although I hope the two games will never merge." The Bears will play their home games at Coundon Road this season before moving, along with Coventry rugby union club, to a new, 10,000-seater stadium in the city centre in 2001. Fairbrother views the whole thing as a two-pronged strategy.

"We are going to bid for the West Midlands franchise for rugby union and we might have Super League here as well," he said. "We have got our eye open for a rugby league club that may want to merge."

The chairman of the Rugby League Conference, Lionel Hurst, said that league and union working together was the way forward for both and also paid tribute to the support given to the Conference by the Rugby League's recently departed chief executive, Neil Tunnicliffe. "Without his wisdom over the last three years, this could not have happened," Hurst said.

The season's first silverware will be handed over tonight when Leigh travel to Dewsbury for the final of the Trans-Pennine Cup. The competition, for the highest-placed Northern Ford Premiership club on either side of those hills, is being played for the first time since 1997.

Both clubs go into the final with their credentials dented - the NFP leaders, Leigh, lost at home to Sheffield Eagles on Sunday, while Dewsbury were held by Swinton.

St Helens have cut their losses on their injured Australian half-back, Darrell Trindall, who has flown home for surgery on his shoulder. Trindall, signed by Saints' former coach, Ellery Hanley, from South Sydney, has played just two matches since arriving on a two-year contract.

The London Broncos captain, Karle Hammond, has been suspended for two matches after being sent off for abusive language to the referee in Sunday's defeat by Salford.

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