RUGBY LEAGUE; Broadbent signs for ambitious Thunder

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The Independent Online
GATESHEAD THUNDER, still glowing from the best victory of their inaugural season, have signed Paul Broadbent from Halifax. The move by Gateshead, who beat Wigan on Sunday to consolidate their place in Super League's top five, marks a change of tack by the competition's newest club, who have relied until now on Australian imports.

Broadbent, aged 31, has eight caps and captained his previous club, the Sheffield Eagles, in their Challenge Cup victory last year, but left for a lucrative deal with Halifax this winter. He will join Gateshead next year on a two-season contract and is unlikely to be their last important British signing.

Super League clubs have gone away for a week to consider ways of improving the quality of the competition, including suggestions that it should be reduced from 14 to 12 clubs. Among the means of doing that are "parachute payments" for clubs standing down voluntarily, and financial incentives for those who merge.

The clear candidates for exclusion, such as Salford and Halifax, have already said that they are not interested, while mergers remain so contentious an issue that Super League's managing director, Maurice Lindsay, was at pains to emphasise: "We are not pushing anyone towards merger."

The clubs meet again next Tuesday, while the League Council, which would have to ratify any changes, has delayed tomorrow's planned meeting until 24 August.

Lindsay is today on a trouble-shooting visit to Hull, Super League's bottom club, which last week pushed its players to the brink of strike action by cutting their wages. Lindsay will meet the players, the chairman of their trade union, Abi Ekoku, and representatives of the club in an effort to work out a formula to see them through to the end of the season.

"I'm very confident that we will find a way forward that will lift the strike threat and make sure that they finish the season," Lindsay said.

He will tell them, however, that Super League cannot underwrite their unpaid wages, as some players have suggested should happen. "Those contracts are between two parties - the players and the club - and we cannot override them," he said.

The Wigan forward Mick Cassidy has been told that he has no case to answer over the tackle for which he was placed on report during the defeat by Gateshead at Edinburgh on Sunday.

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