Rugby league: Clubs claim stairway to elite status

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The Independent Online
ALL BUT one of the five clubs who could win the First Division's Grand Final later this month will press ahead with an application to join Super League. Wakefield Trinity, Dewsbury, Featherstone and Swinton are all going into the play-off series, which starts this weekend, committed to claiming a place among the elite if they win on 26 September.

"This division is still the pathway to Super League," Bob McDermott, chairman of the First and Second Division Association, said. "Clubs have the chance to demonstrate that, if they win the Grand Final and can meet the criteria laid down, a place in Super League is the right and just reward."

However, McDermott's own club, Dewsbury, in third place after the end of the league programme on Sunday, will not try to force their way into the top division even if they win the Grand Final at Huddersfield, because their ground fails to meet the standards required.

"We have to treat this as a valuable competition and well worth winning in its own right," the Dewsbury coach, Neil Kelly, said. "Our aim is to win the competition and what happens off the field is not our concern."

The other four, including the leaders Wakefield, who would have to move to meet the stadium criteria, have their chances of elevation enhanced by the addition of Gateshead to Super League. It will stand at 13 clubs, improving the prospects of the First Division winners achieving promotion.

"We would all certainly do better than Gateshead at the moment, because we've got more players than them," Steve Simms, the Featherstone coach, said. "We all need three or four players to be able to compete in Super League."

The Grand Final, which will pre-date Super League's version by a month, is to be shown live on Sky and in front of what Fasda hopes will be a crowd of more than 10,000. The association is also to look into the possibility of a televised competition in November or April, outside the present summer season. Talks are going on with both Granada/Yorkshire and the BBC, said McDermott.

There could be more ructions in the "other business" section of today's meeting of the Rugby League Council, with clubs ready to complain about the cost of sending three men to Sydney for the recent international meeting. The League, meanwhile, is likely to be critical of Fasda and Super League's attacks on its chairman, Sir Rodney Walker. Of greater significance is the need for a reorganisation of next season to leave room for international rugby in October.

n St Helens' new coach Ellery Hanley has named Nigel Ashley-Jones as his assistant at Knowsley Road. The 26-year-old Australian has been fitness coach at St Helens since leaving Wigan at the start of the season.

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