Rugby League: Court rules rebels are eligible for World Cup

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The Independent Online
Australia's plans for the Centenary World Cup have been thrown into turmoil by a court ruling that the Australian Rugby League must consider players aligned to the rival Super League organisation.

The Industrial Court of New South Wales has ruled in favour of a group of players, including Canberra's Laurie Daley, Ricky Stuart and Bradley Clyde, in barring the ARL from excluding them. Since the division of the Australian game into two antagonistic camps earlier this year, no players recruited by Super League for its rival competition due to start next March have been selected for representative matches, either for their states or for the Test team.

The 40-man squad from which the Australian coach, Bob Fulton, was to draw his party for the World Cup next month contains no Super League players. In the battle between the two factions, the Kerry Packer-backed ARL has had one strong card to play against Rupert Murdoch's Super League - the right to select only "loyalist" players for Australia.

By any dispassionate measurement of form and ability, nine or 10 Super League players would be in the strongest Australian side, but the court's ruling that the ARL must "consider" them is open to varying interpretations. An Australian team without any Super League players beat New Zealand 3-0 in a Test series and the ARL selectors and Fulton could argue that it is wrong to change a winning side, one that has shown cohesion in troubled times.

The mood among a mixed squad, under the coaching of an ARL partisan such as Fulton, could be very different. There is also the question of promises and guarantees of future preferment given to players in order to ensure their loyalty to the ARL. The ARL is taking legal advice before making any statement, but it could be regarded as flouting the court's decision if it stands its ground.

The British chief executive and tournament director, Maurice Lindsay, argued strongly that Australia should send its strongest side, before agreeing to accept an exclusively ARL squad. Lindsay yesterday described the court decision as "a massive boost" for the tournament.

One further complication surrounds the two Tongans selected in the Australian squad, John Hopoate and Jim Dymock, who have been told that they will jeopardise their prospects if they opt for Tonga.

Roy Waudby, a Rugby League council member, has returned from South Africa with assurances that they will be turning up for the World Cup. Waudby was able to reassure the South Africans about their expenses being covered in Britain.