Rugby league: Clinch the limbo chancer

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IF THEY had a rugby league team in limbo, Gavin Clinch would be playing for it now. A few hours after his old club, Halifax, play Gateshead today, Clinch will watch his new one, Wigan, at Warrington. Until a new work permit arrives - fortunately, a process usually quicker than getting a passport - he is reduced to the role of a spectator.

The loss of the influential Australian scrum-half is one of the prices to be paid by Halifax for not putting their crumbling house in order. He and last season's half-back partner, Chris Chester, will not be the end of the departures. "It's sad that it's come to this," he said. "I didn't want to leave, but I couldn't afford not to be getting paid - not knowing from month to month whether the money was going to be there. The move to Wigan is the positive that has come out of it. It's the biggest thing that has happened to me in my career."

Or it will be when it happens. "At the moment, I'm training with the team, but I can't play and that is frustrating," he said.

There will be a tussle for half-back at Wigan when Chester, Clinch and today's incumbents, Greg Florimo and Tony Smith, are available.

No such embarrassment of riches at Halifax, who are likely to have to thin out their squad further before they can even think about being back on an even keel. Much as it grieves him, Clinch cannot see them turning their foundering vessel around quickly. "I can't see how," he said. "Some of the people in the administration there just aren't right. It's not fair to blame the players for taking too much. If they didn't have the money, they shouldn't have offered us what they didn't have."

Clinch believes that Halifax, whose chances of victory today are surely negligible, might have to drop down a division in order to survive. There are also rumblings from Super League to suggest that merely being there at the end of the season will not be enough to guarantee them their membership in 2000.

More departures seem certain, just as more arrivals are in prospect at Wigan. Clinch must feel like a man in transit, scarcely knowing whether he is coming or going.