Wakefield get shock Super League reprieve
Crusaders' late withdrawal stuns the Welsh club's squad and hands an unexpected lifeline to delighted Wildcats
Dave Hadfield was a schoolboy convert to rugby league, the game which, one way or another, has dominated his life ever since. After working for newspapers in Shropshire and Blackpool (where he covered the fortunes of Blackpool Borough) he travelled the world, working mainly in Hong Kong and Sydney. He became The Independent's rugby league man in 1990 and has written five books on the game and broadcast extensively for Sky and the BBC. Dave played his last game at the age of 53 and would have set up a try if anyone could have been bothered supporting his break. When not writing about the sport, he now limits himself to a bit of tick and pass with his local club, the Bolton Mets. Family includes supporters - of varying degrees of dedication - of Salford, Wigan, Sheffield Eagles and St George Illawarra.
Wednesday 27 July 2011
Much to their own surprise, as well as everyone else's, Wakefield are still in Super League, thanks to Crusaders falling on their sword with an 11th-hour decision to withdraw their application to continue playing in the competition.
With the Wildcats ranked as universal favourites to be dropped from the elite division, their players and staff gathered at Belle Vue expecting a wake. It turned into a celebration party yesterday when the news came through from Old Trafford that the Wrexham-based club had committed the Welsh equivalent of hara-kiri.
Crusaders withdrew from the bidding process over the weekend, although talks had been going on with the Rugby League for some weeks about their financial position. "It was a difficult decision, but I think the right decision," said the club's chief executive, Rod Findlay. "We couldn't be confident of surviving for three years. It wouldn't have been right for us to start on that basis."
Crusaders are still in discussions with the League about playing in the semi-professional Co-operative Championship next season, but that will be of little consolation to players left high and dry by their decision. One of their longest servants, Mark Bryant, tweeted that "the owners didn't even have the backbone to speak to players about their withdrawal," while Rhys Hanbury said that his recent three-year contract had been "written on toilet paper".
Perhaps the angriest was the former Great Britain centre, Keith Senior, who recently agreed a two-year contract with the club. He eventually toned his comments down to: "Looks like I need to look for a job." He will not be alone.
Crusaders' failure is a major embarrassment to the RFL, who welcomed them into Super League three years ago, despite doubts about their viability, and invested £700,000 – which they claim is secure – in the Racecourse Ground.
The club was forced out of its original home at Bridgend by a lack of funds after one season and, for a while, Wrexham looked a better option. There were encouraging crowds and encouraging results as they reached the play-offs.
They went into administration last winter however, and are bottom of the table. The success they have had in developing the game in North Wales is now in peril, as is the feasibility of hosting games in the 2013 World Cup.
"It's not a great day for rugby league in Wales," admitted the RFL's chief executive, Nigel Wood. "But it's not as catastrophic as some are suggesting. The game there is in far better shape than five or six years ago. Thousands more are playing and that will continue."
That was the least of their worries at Wakefield, from where the sigh of relief could be heard all across the north of England. "It was just amazing," said their chief executive James Elston of the reprieve. "A fantastic result – but we said all along that we deserved it."
Trinity had looked doomed by their combination of going into administration and failing to replace their antiquated Belle Vue ground, but Wood denied that they were in Super League by default. The RFL's chairman, Richard Lewis, however, issued a pointed warning that licences could be revoked if clubs failed to measure up over the next three years.
None of which impressed the other unsuccessful applicants, Halifax. "It seems a no-brainer as far as I'm concerned," said their chairman, Michael Steel. "If it's between Halifax and Wakefield, Halifax are in." Not according to the RFL's inspection process.
Meanwhile, the question in Wrexham is what sort of team and performance they can be expected to put up in their next match. With rich irony, that is on Sunday at Wakefield.
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