RFL bid to run Australian rebels

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The Independent Online
Rugby League

DAVE HADFIELD

With Super League in Australia in headlong retreat, its counterpart in Britain has made an astonishing offer to launch a competition there on its behalf.

In perhaps the most bizarre twist yet to the saga of Rupert Murdoch's attempted take-over, the British administration hopes, in effect, to run Super League in Australia, in the hope that this will get around the legal prohibition on it starting there this season.

The Rugby Football League has engaged a QC, who will argue in court in Sydney today that such a move would be justified in order to safeguard international competition.

One effect of Judge James Burchett's rulings on the case so far is that the World Club Championship and Great Britain's tour to Australia this autumn are both under threat.

The RFL's member clubs gave its board of directors permission on Sunday to do anything they deemed necessary to protect those events and this breathtakingly audacious attempt to find a legal loophole is the result of that go-ahead.

Whether the judge will consider that a competition run by an organisation that has accepted pounds 87m from News Limited would by-pass his objections to the way Super League was set up is an entirely different matter.

Indeed, the whole thrust of this latest move seems so perverse that it reads more like the prelude to something else than a credible ploy in its own right.

The League insists, however, that it has taken legal advice on both sides of the world and that it is serious. "Clarification will be sought from the court in respect of the 300 Super League players and it is the RFL's intention to organise a competition and run it alongside the European Super League," said the RFL's media manager, Paul Harrison, who expects a decision from the judge on the proposals within the next few days.

Super League's disarray in Australia was emphasised by its offer yesterday to scrap voluntarily its inaugural season and pay huge damages to the Australian . However, that offer was immediately rejected by the ARL, which believes it can win even more handsomely and is pressing for a ruling that the loyalty agreements signed by eight would-be breakaway clubs apply until after the 1999 season.

The two sides are back in court today, but Judge Burchett has warned that there will be no quick decision on the other 27 rulings sought by the ARL against Super League. In the meantime, the injunction preventing Super League starting in Australian remains in force.

One British Super League club, Workington Town, is still seeking investment to safeguard its future after the proposed takeover by a Scottish consortium fell through.

The club's majority shareholder, Tom Mitchell, has now decided against selling his shares to the consortium and Workington have revealed alarming debts. "But Workington will definitely start the Super League season," Kevan Gorge, their former chairman, said.

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