Murdoch Rules implies merger of two games

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Dave Hadfield looks for coded messages amid the speculation surrounding News Ltd's rugby league revolution

Such has been the pace of events in rugby league over the past week that only a man whose head has been in far too many scrums would attempt too firm a prediction of what the future holds.

But one theory gathering credibility in Australia is that there could be a hidden agenda behind Rupert Murdoch's takeover of the game that would point inexorably towards a realignment of the two codes of rugby that will make the revolution so far look cautious and gradualist.

Murdoch's organisation, News Ltd, has already toyed with the idea of a worldwide rugby union circus, before rejecting it on the grounds that, although its international profile would be a major plus, the actual nature of the game as televised entertainment would be a crippling minus.

Now, there are those who believe Murdoch could be poised to achieve the same end by different means. Already, names being bandied about as likely converts after the rugby union World Cup in South Africa are legion, and this despite drastic measures such as Bob Dwyer, the Australia coach, asking for security guards for his players at their hotels to stop approaches from rugby league scouts.

Although signing someone such as the Wallaby captain, Phil Kearns, would have obvious propaganda value, he and many of the other players being mooted would have little to offer league in its current form. They would be no more likely to make a go of it than this season's biggest Australian signing from union, Garrick Morgan, who had played a mere couple of games for the South Queensland Crushers before he and the club were looking for an escape clause under which he could quietly return to his old game.

But consider this scenario. After the World Cup, Murdoch will sign the cream of the world's rugby union players - not to play a game at which they might fail, but one much closer to their previous experience. That would create a hybrid code of rugby, not only dominated but monopolised and patented by Murdoch. Ridiculous? Surely no more unthinkable than summer rugby was two months ago.

It was then that the British game's chief executive, Maurice Lindsay, underwent a miraculous conversion to a concept that goes hand-in-hand with the proposed Super League. Around the same time, he began to talk enthusiastically about the possibilities of a new, composite code of rugby.

It made little sense to me at the time. Put it together with the progress of the revolution so far, and suddenly it begins to do so.

Hidden agendas in this affair are nothing new. Lindsay might try to argue that the decision of the Rugby Football League to jump into bed with Murdoch with such alacrity was taken in isolation from events in Australia, but that is disingenuous.

Murdoch's strategy is a global one, and a large part of his motivation for controlling the British game lies in the gaping hole that such a move blows in the defences of the game he really wants: rugby league in Australia. One of the aspects of this business hardly noticed so far but full of potential significance is that Murdoch's contract with the League only permits Great Britain to play against his players at international level.

Lindsay looked for a term to describe Murdoch's relationship with the League on Saturday. Sponsor did not sound quite right; employer was a bit too blatant. In the end, he settled on backer. But what sort of backer is it who can determine who Britain play? And, if the theory that there are still elements of union that he wants proves correct, Murdoch's rugby league signings could one day be required to play against different opposition and by a different set of rules.

Keighley to fight, page 31