Mark Evans: Two codes and one identity add up to great opportunity

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The Independent Online

It is an idea that has been a long time in coming to fruition. Back in the late Nineties the same idea was no more than bar- room chat between the late, great, cross-code marketeer Peter Deakin and myself, when we were both working at Saracens. We used to chat about the possibility of one rugby organisation playing both codes in the same stadium in the same colours. At that stage it was a pipe dream. The stadium at Watford was already hosting both rugby union and football - three sports on only one pitch made it a non-starter. But the concept was a good one...

Having moved to Harlequins in 2000 I met up with Nic Cartwright - then, as now, chief executive of the London rugby league operation. We discussed a traditional ground-share but quickly agreed that a more adventurous and innovative partnership might be more attractive to both clubs. The Twickenham Stoop was not then set up to accommodate a dual-code operation but we both got increasingly enthusiastic about the idea and eventually an "in principle" deal was agreed in the spring of 2005.

The partnership was based around a belief that one name, one set of colours and one stadium could sustain two separate professional rugby set-ups, and that it gave the best possible chance for the long-term viability of professional rugby league in London. In that sense it differs significantly from the Leeds Tykes- Rhinos arrangement, which sees common ownership but operates the two codes as different brands. The deal was completed last July.

It is fair to say that professional rugby league in London has had mixed fortunes since the first game at Craven Cottage in 1980 when the team played as Fulham and over 10,000 people (including myself in a younger incarnation) turned up to watch. Since then there have been good times - runners-up in the Challenge Cup and Super League - but also some dark days, when the very existence of professional rugby league in the capital looked in doubt.

Now there is a great opportunity to create a viable, thriving, professional, dual-code club in a purpose-built rugby stadium.

There are hard-liners on both sides of the traditional rugby divide who would prefer that the two codes continue their historical antipathy and remain at daggers drawn. Such people would rather debate the past than shape the future. Of course some of the actions taken by union administrators to limit the spread of rugby league were indefensible. Of course the treatment of some players who "went North" pre-1995 was disgraceful. But the vast majority of our potential fans in the London area are completely unaware or uninterested in such matters. Our task is to entice people to the Twickenham Stoop to watch attractive rugby of either code - preferably both.

With a wealth of exciting players such as Luke Dorn, Mark McClinden, Thomas Leulai and Solomon Haumono wearing the famous quartered shirt this year there will certainly be no lack of action on the pitch. The Saturday- afternoon kick-offs will allow more away fans to make an annual trip to the capital and still get back home at a reasonable hour.

An increased interest in the sport, driven by the Sky coverage, should see crowds grow and media interest increase. All in all the prospects are bright. There are no guarantees, but all of us at Harlequins, whether from a league or union background, are com-mitted to making this thing work.

Mark Evans is the chief executive of Harlequins