Clubs try to mine Welsh interest with fixture shift

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The Independent Online

Super League is to take an entire round of games to Cardiff next spring. Under a new fixture format, the league season will be reduced from 28 to 27 games, with each club playing 13 home and away, with one on neutral territory at the Millennium Stadium.

The plan is for three double-headers at the home of Welsh rugby union, on the Friday, Saturday and Sunday of a weekend, probably in late April. Apart from boosting the code in the principality, where a new club, the Celtic Crusaders, are trying to work their way up the divisions, the weekend is seen as a replacement for Challenge Cup finals in Cardiff, which were popular with fans during the rebuilding of Wembley.

Cardiff City Council, eager for events to fill the stadium once Wembley is finally back in use, are backing the venture financially.

Clubs have approved the idea, despite the obvious risk of losing income, compared with the healthy home gates that several of them attract.

"That depends whether you look on it as a game lost or a game gained, because we were already committed to moving to a 26-game season," said one chief executive.

A 27-game season would free up another weekend for a mid-season international, instead of playing on a Tuesday night, as Great Britain and New Zealand did last week.

Salford have brought a famous name to The Willows with the signing of David Gower. This Gower is a 20-year-old back-row forward from Wests-Tigers in Sydney, who has arrived for the rest of the season and could make his debut on Saturday against Hull.

Gower does not count on the overseas quota, because his father, like his better-known namesake, was born in Kent. He has arrived at a good time, with several first-teamers injured. "There is every chance David will make his debut for us this weekend. We are sure the fans will take to him quickly," said Salford's director of rugby, Steve Simms.

Following an X-ray on a suspected broken wrist yesterday, Warrington's captain Lee Briers is available for the match against Huddersfield on Sunday in which the Wolves will try to break their five-game losing streak. Warrington will not be able to field Paul Wood, who was sent off with Castleford's Ryan McGoldrick for fighting on Sunday. Both players have been suspended for one match.

Hull have agreed to release their Great Britain prop, Jamie Thackray, who is to join his home-town club, Leeds, for the start of next season.