Rugby league: Clarke dismissed by Wigan

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ON THE day they re-signed one of their current squad, Wigan have pushed their former player, Phil Clarke, out of the door after a year as their chief executive.

The ex-Great Britain loose forward returned from Australia, where his playing career was ended by a neck injury, to steer the club on behalf of its new owner, Dave Whelan, last year. But now Clarke, at 27 the game's youngest chief executive, has returned from holiday to be told that his job is disappearing as a cost-cutting measure.

"The new chairman, Peter Norbury, has decided that he can combine his role and mine as the club continues to cut costs," said Clarke. "Wigan is in my blood and I have worked tirelessly this year to run the club in a businesslike manner. There is a Wigan way of doing things with honour and fairness, but it is obvious that the new chairman has different views."

Clarke said that he was disappointed to be leaving. "But I have overcome bigger setbacks in my life," he said. "I have a clear vision of how professional sport should be run in this country. I'm just sorry that I won't be able to put that into practice at my hometown club."

Clarke was assured by Whelan that he had his backing for a major restructuring of the way the club is run. But the multi-millionaire has sided with Norbury in a power struggle that amounted to "him or me".

The Rugby League's chief executive, Neil Tunnicliffe, declared himself "staggered" by Clarke's departure. "My impression is that the progress the club has made under his stewardship is phenomenal," he said. "He is a talented young administrator and I hope he will not be lost to the game."

Clarke's last act on the club's behalf yesterday was to confirm that Gary Connolly will be staying at Wigan as the Great Britain centre has agreed a new, three-year contract.

"There has been a lot of speculation about him playing rugby union or going to Australia, but he is at the peak of his playing career with some good years to come," said Norbury, with Clarke sitting one chair away.

"The club is absolutely delighted, because he is the best centre in Super League."

Connolly was due to move to Australia next June, but was released from his contract by the Australian Rugby League.

"I'm at the best rugby league club in the world, so a lot of the point of going to Australia has gone," said Connolly.

His Great Britain and Ireland team-mate, Terry O'Connor, will talk to Wigan about his future next week. O'Connor had been earmarked to join Halifax, but his surge of form late in the season has made Wigan keen to retain him.

Hull have signed the Bradford centre, Matt Calland, on a two-year contract.