New venture takes shape in the valleys

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With a perfect sense of timing, professional rugby league is set to return to south Wales.

With a perfect sense of timing, professional rugby league is set to return to south Wales.

After dithering and dallying over the last decade while Welsh rugby union was in the doldrums, the "other" code is likely to respond to last weekend's union Grand Slam by making its latest foray into the valleys.

The Rugby Football League announced yesterday that National League Two is to expand by one club at the end of this season. Although the former professional club at Bramley and the dual-code venture at Coventry are expected to apply, a new Welsh club, based at Bridgend, is the clear front-runner.

"It's definitely going to happen,'' said the former Wales team manager Mike Nicholas yesterday. "It's just a matter of getting it rubber-stamped.'' Nicholas, who has been trying for years to relaunch a Welsh presence in the game, denies that the timing is unfortunate.

"It doesn't affect us,'' he said of the new mood of optimism in union. "We will be there as an alternative and we are confident regardless of how they do.''

The side, playing at Bridgend's Brewery Field, will be largely made up of Welsh players who have cut their teeth in the Welsh division of the Conference, but Nicholas believes there is also a reservoir of rugby talent among players who have failed to win contracts in the élite Welsh union competition.

The new venture will be backed by Leighton Samuel, who funded the now defunct Celtic Warriors union side.

Lesley Vainikolo has agreed a four-year contract extension at Bradford, while the Leeds forwards Matt Diskin, Danny Ward and Jamie Jones-Buchanan have agreed one-year extensions to their contracts.

Jason Ferris, one of Leigh's main signings for Super League, has been released after telling the club he is disillusioned with life in England, and Wigan's Brian Carney will be out for six weeks after damaging knee ligaments.