RUGBY LEAGUE: Centenary's chance to celebrate in style

Sport-by-sport guide to 1995: England awaits the European football inva sion as rugby union's World Cup takes over
Click to follow
The Independent Online
The coming year is the most pivotal and significant that even a game which specialises in living in a state of perpetual crisis has seen for a very long time.

Part of the importance is symbolic. This is the code's centenary year, and it is vital for its self-confidence that the event is celebrated in style, notably with a successful staging of its most ambitious World Cup to date, in England and Wales in October.

The World Cup will bring together some vastly differing fortunes. The game in Australia is in rude good health and the expansion of the Winfield Cup to Auckland, Perth and both ends of Queensland in March is one of the most significant steps the sport has ever taken.

There is excitement too over the potential of the emerging league nations, Fiji, Tonga and Western Samoa, who are coached by the inspirational Graham Lowe and could be Wales' nemesis in league as they were in union.

In France, though, the future of the game hangs on what now seems the very slender thread of Jacques Fouroux' grand but flawed design.

Domestically, Leeds deserve a medal for sending the First Division into a new year with at least a hint of unpredictability over its outcome. In truth, last season was the one where a troubled Wigan were there for the taking in the championship, but Lee d s' victory in early December keeps the chances open.

Next August, after another crack at the recurring Irish question when the Charity Shield is revived and taken to Dublin, the First Division will be replaced by something provisionally known as the Premier League.

The Rugby League has fudged its opportunity to introduce any of the reforms that are really needed, however. The only difference will be the absence of players like Denis Betts and Phil Clarke, who will be playing in the Winfield Cup, where, among the o t her attractions, they have a fixture formula that is not dedicated to burning players out by their mid-20s.