Millward denies 'treating game with contempt'

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The Independent Online

St Helens' coach, Ian Millward, remained unrepentant yesterday as Rugby League officials ordered an investigation into his decision to put out a makeshift team against Bradford Bulls a week before the Challenge Cup final.

Millward was accused of "doing immense damage to the sport" after leaving 12 players out of his likely Murrayfield line-up for the Super League match at Valley Parade, which the Bulls won 54-22 to return to the top of the table. The cup holders included five regulars and played the last 25 minutes with 12 men as Millward kept one eye on Saturday's showdown against Wigan.

A furious Bradford chairman Chris Caisley claimed Millward had "treated the broadcaster, the sponsors and the spectators with complete contempt" and that his club lost around £35,000 in revenue because of a reduced attendance of 14,271. The former Super League chairman even claimed Millward's actions could jeopardise the League's attempt to negotiate the next contract with satellite broadcasters BSkyB when it expires at the end of 2003.

A League spokesman said: "We are to investigate all the circumstances surrounding the match. We will consider whether any of the current bye-laws have been breached during the fixture."

It is possible that Millward or his club could face a charge of bringing the game into disrepute, but the Australian said: "I've been honest all the way through and looked after the players' welfare. We've just come off four super big games and there's wear tear.

"I have never heard so much bull in my life. I think what people should be writing about is how young kids put their bodies on the line against the world club champions."

Millward claimed that, of the 12 absent players, he expected all but two to play at Murrayfield – Paul Newlove and Sean Hoppe are big injury doubts – and that the second-rower John Stankevitch, who picked up a knee injury in the game, was "touch and go".

The Bulls' chief executive Abi Ekoku said St Helens should be fined heavily, just as his side was in 1989 for resting players for a match against New Zealand – but recent precedents suggest that no action will be taken.

* London Broncos beat Halifax 46-18 to record their third successive home win. London ran in eight tries despite losing half-back Dennis Moran with an ankle injury midway through the first half.