BY DAVE HADFIELD
The Wigan winger Jason Robinson, declared fit to play in the Silk Cut Challenge Cup final, is joining the Australian Rugby League and could be followed by tomorrow's Wembley captain, Shaun Edwards.
Robinson has signed a £1.25m, four-year deal, which will start when his Wigan contract runs out in 1997. Even more damaging to Wigan and the Rupert Murdoch-sponsored European Super League is the likelihood that Edwards, annoyed at not being offered a loyalty contract like many of his team- mates, might take the same route.
Robinson's contract is the biggest ever promised to a British player and a sure sign of the galloping inflation that is now playing havoc with the game. There are potential drawbacks, however, because the deal is with the ARL rather than an individual club and players will go into a central pool from which they will be allocated.
Robinson, a 20-year-old signed by Wigan from youth rugby in Leeds, was in negotiation with South Sydney before the Super League furore upped the ante. That link might carry over into his new deal.
Edwards, who confirmed an approach from the ARL yesterday, said: "I am confused and upset, having read of and knowing of other players who have received loyalty bonuses for staying with the English Rugby League.
"As Wigan and Great Britain captain, I consider myself to have been the most loyal player to both club and country over the last few years. It seems funny that other people cannot recognise my loyalty and it has given me no choice but to consider a move to Australia."
Edwards is 28 and that might militate against him, but his potential defection would be a major blow to the Super League, outweighing the news that John Devereux is to stay with Widnes, and the timing of the revelation on the eve of Wembley is doubly unfortunate for Wigan.
Their opponents, Leeds, have their own concerns over the future plans of Ellery Hanley, Alan Tait and Craig Innes, but they hope to set those worries aside until after the final.
The Super League also seems set to make compromises to try to make the plan more palatable to clubs and individuals who have attacked it as unfair. A special meeting of clubs in Huddersfield on Sunday will discuss modifications, including a likely increase from 14 to 18 clubs.
That could open the way for clubs like Huddersfield, Castleford and Featherstone, all of whom believe they have a claim for inclusion, as well as Cardiff, currently destined for the feeder league below, and the new Second Division champions, Keighley, whose legal action against the League is due to start in Leeds today. MPs have also criticised the Murdoch deal and the Minister for Sport, Iain Sproat, has called for an inquiry.
"We have been listening carefully to what the game's supporters have had to say and we are mindful of their concerns and the long-standing traditions of the game," the Rugby League's chief executive, Maurice Lindsay said.
Lindsay and the League's chairman, Rodney Walker, are under pressure from all sides, although both have denied any intention to lead a breakaway from the governing body.
To increase the Super League to 18 would get some clubs off their backs, but it would destroy one of the positive aspects of the proposal - a reduction in the size of the top division and the number of games expected of leading players.
If the ARL continue to make inroads, there may be fewer leading players to worry about.
The essential Hanley, page 38