Harris move revealed as £850,000 'loan'

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Leeds begin life without Iestyn Harris today – but may not have seen the last of him in a Rhinos jersey.

Under the deal, unveiled today, that has taken him off to Cardiff and netted Leeds over £850,000, it is understood that Harris is contracted to play for the rugby league side again in the 2004 season, with an option for a further year after that.

In effect, the Rhinos will be loaning him to rugby union for two years for £850,000, so that he can fulfil his long-standing ambition of playing for Wales in the 2003 World Cup.

The club is convinced that this represents good business, especially after Harris made it clear last week that he wanted to make the switch – unlike St Helens' Keiron Cunningham, who has opted to stay in league.

The Rhinos' chief executive, Gary Hetherington, would not reveal the details of the deal that takes Harris to Wales and then brings him back. "Obviously, our supporters are going to be disappointed, but Iestyn's going will not come as a shock to them," he said. "I think they will recognise that we had to do the best we could for the club and that's what we've done. This represents the best deal for the club."

Hetherington has promised that the Welsh gold will be ploughed into strengthening the Rhinos, with none of it going to their sister rugby union club, the Leeds Tykes.

He has been to Australia, recruiting one top player and also plans to enter the domestic market to bring in another.

The money from the Harris deal – a record for league – gives Leeds unprecedented clout in the transfer market, with the bonus that he could be back in league whilst still only 27.

Despite this, the Welsh Rugby Union's own press release made it clear which sport is in the ascendancy now.

"How the tide has turned," proclaimed the hand-out, detailing 14 players who have returned to union since Scott Quinnell moved to Wigan in 1994. "We lost two or three of our top players to league every year and it was difficult to overcome at times," added the WRU chairman, Glanmor Griffiths. "This is not about revenge. It is about developing our own game."