Dave Hadfield: League can easily coexist with cuckoos in the North-west nest

Put simply, rugby union is just not entertaining enough for an audience used to the thrills and spills of Super League
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The Independent Online

Rugby union isn't quite treading on league's toes by staging a Premiership match at the Reebok Stadium, but it is getting close.

As a straight-down-the-line football town, Bolton might be seen as neutral territory between the two codes, but it is territory where league has already planted its flag.

Saturday's game between Sale and London Irish is the first 15-a-side contest there, but league has been there – and to its predecessor, Burnden Park – repeatedly since the game began to outgrow its modest traditional facilities in the North-west.

The Breezeblock, as it is affectionately known, has hosted half a dozen big matches, including Tests against New Zealand and the World Club Challenge. More infamously, it was once mooted as a new home for Wigan's rugby league club.

Having Sale there will be new, but not as big a threat to league's peace of mind as some things that have already happened and which the game seems to be surviving. It was Sale, of course, who poached Jason Robinson from Wigan, gave him elocution lessons and made him a national sporting celebrity.

That was one of those events that was popularly supposed to mark an unstoppable downward spiral in league's fortunes. Just like the loss of Chris Ashton and Kyle Eastmond, however, there is nothing that stops life going on.

You can feel a little more concerned when you look at Sale's back-room structure. It is impossible not to miss out-and-out league men like Mick Hogan, Ray Unsworth or Gary Tasker. But no amount of defections among players or administrators can give rugby union the mass following it craves in the North-west. Put simply, it is just not entertaining enough for an audience used to Super League's thrills and spills.

Sale has not worked as a bridgehead into rugby league terrain. Now, a custom-built rugby stadium right by the motorway on the fringes of Manchester city centre, could be a very different thing.

That is what Salford are putting up at Barton and the notion that they might one day share it with Sale refuses to go away. That must be a mark of how confident rugby league is in the North-west. We're not only inviting the cuckoos into the nest, we might well be building the nest for them.

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