Blueprint for future signals closed shop for Super League

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The Independent Online

It is not quite a case of pulling up the drawbridge, but the moat separating Super League from the rest of the game is to get deeper and wider.

It is not quite a case of pulling up the drawbridge, but the moat separating Super League from the rest of the game is to get deeper and wider.

The Rugby League has revealed in detail the blueprint for the future of its élite competition - one in which winning a National League Grand Final will not be enough to win the keys to the castle.

The RFL's executive chairman, Richard Lewis, confirmed that the intention is to expand Super League to 14 teams in time for the 2009 season - the first of a new television contract - with South Wales and France among the likely sources of new blood and current clubs not guaranteed their places.

The new Super League would then be immune from relegation for three years and, even after that, new entrants will only be admitted if they are considered a better proposition, on the field and off, than an existing member. The chairman of Featherstone, Steve Evans, said that the principle of promotion should remain sacrosanct.

"I should think that other clubs, like Featherstone, want to maintain an avenue," he said. "They are talking about transparency, but that hasn't got to be a glass ceiling."

There will still be a theoretical route for an NL1 side who can prove their credentials and could be allocated a place a year in advance, but the strategy marks a break with the tradition of promotion and relegation.

"It's always been the British way," said Lewis, "That's not to say it's the right way." The League has been swayed by the experience of Leigh this season. "Finding out you are to be promoted in October and having to be ready for Super League in February does not give a club the best chance of making the most of itself," he added.

The RFL's aim is that Super League clubs should each have a turnover of £3m a year, which would mean being able to spend the same amount on their squads, ensuring a more even competition.

The danger is that, without relegation and promotion, interest could drain away into stagnation at the foot of Super League and at the top of NL1, where Castleford and Hull KR, for instance, drew a crowd of 8,000 last Sunday.

Denis Betts goes into tonight's match against Huddersfield amid predictions that he has two games - this one and Salford next week - in which to save his job as Wigan coach.

Following their 60-4 defeat by Leeds last week, Leigh have good news and bad news for tonight's repeat. They may not face Rob Burrow, who rests a leg injury, but he is replaced by Danny McGuire.

Castleford have taken the former Featherstone prop, Andy Bailey, on loan from Hull for a month.

The former Australia captain Mal Meninga has been cleared of assault over an incident outside a Canberra pub two years ago.

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