League defends plans to impose salary limit

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The Independent Online

The Rugby League's finance director, Nigel Wood, has defended attempts to equalise competition in Super League on the eve of the new season.

Wigan and Bradford, who beat Penrith to become World Club Champions last Friday, have already declared that they will fight through the courts any moves to reduce the ceiling on player payments from its present level of £1.8m.

A majority of Super League clubs favour a reduction and will discuss it at a potentially divisive meeting this week.

But Wood says the League is not planning to force the issue at the cost of a split. "We want to make the clubs from fifth to 10th in the table more competitive, but we've got an open mind on how we do that," he said.

"We want more depth in the competition but we're receptive to any ideas on how we do that."

Wood refuted the claim of the Bradford chairman, Chris Caisley, that a lower salary cap would prevent British sides repeating what the Bulls managed on Friday. "A more even competition will only serve to sharpen our players for international competition," he said.

The League's executive chairman, Richard Lewis, predicted that crowds would continue to grow this season. Attendances last year went up by nine per cent in the season as a whole and 16 per cent for the play-offs.

Widnes, predicted by many to finish bottom this year, have decided against signing the Australian hooker or half-back Andy Henderson, who played for them on their recent visit to Australia. The Widnes coach, Neil Kelly, has instead earmarked his under-21 hooker, Phil Wood, as a replacement to be called up if necessary.

Kelly acknowledged yesterday that Sunday's match against promoted Salford could be construed, even before the season starts, as a four-pointer. "They'll be looking on this as a game they can win and we can consign them to a season of struggle," he said.

The Warrington captain, Lee Briers, has recovered from a broken wrist for their first match at the new Halliwell Jones stadium against Wakefield on Saturday. Warrington have been granted a safety certificate for the ground's full capacity of 14,200 and are already close to selling it out.

The former Wakefield, Gateshead and Featherstone coach, Andy Kelly, has applied for the coaching job at Dewsbury, whose previous incumbent, Andy Fisher, resigned after the Challenge Cup defeat by the amateurs of Sharlston. The former Halifax centre Graeme Hallas has also applied for the vacancy.