Rugby League: Doubts linger as global game opens up

Dave Hadfield studies the impact of a legal victory for the Super League
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The Independent Online
Winners and losers in the latest round of the struggle for the future of rugby league are digesting the implications of the judgement that has, at least for the present, handed that future to Super League. A change of direction more startling than any Brad Fittler side-step saw Rupert Murdoch and his organisation win on every one of their 60 points of appeal on Friday.

The shock waves sent out by the three judges in the Federal Court of Appeal in Sydney need to die down before anyone can really address the question of what happens now.

The first point is that the lawyers' bonanza is not over. The beaten Australian Rugby League will go to a further appeal, and who is to say, following this week's turnaround, that a further reversal is impossible? Unless the appeal moves a lot faster than the other stages of the Australian legal process, however, nothing is likely to happen to prevent Super League going ahead in Australia next March.

There will then be two competitions running side by side and the ARL's chairman, Ken Arthurson, can still claim: "We have the best clubs and the best players." In fact, the balance of power is too close to call. Two ARL-loyal clubs, Manly and St George, contested last week's Grand Final and an ARL International side won the World Cup in England last Autumn.

Conversely, Super League has clubs like Brisbane and Canberra, and more of the blue-chip star names such as Allan Langer and Laurie Daley. Neither competition can dominate the other, although both will claim to be the only show in town.

Internationally, the verdict comes as a huge relief for the league playing nations which, ethically or not, jumped into bed with Murdoch. From Featherstone to Fiji, the fear was that if Super League lost this appeal, News Corporation would pull the plug on them. Now, Murdoch's overseas investments in rugby league have a new significance.

The first European Super League season, running in isolation, made only a limited amount of sense. Now, with the promise of play-offs against the top Australian clubs at the end of their parallel campaign, it all hangs together so much better.

If Super League lives up to its global rhetoric, all manner of possibilities are now opened up. The European Super League clubs, which have already taken on considerable autonomy, will want to maximise that potential. Already, Gary Hetherington of Sheffield Eagles, one of the concept's most enthusiastic supporters and Great Britain's assistant coach on their present tour, sees new opportunities for clubs crossing the globe to playas part of their seasons' fixtures.

British players see the promise of a bigger, more lucrative game. Their instincts, however, tell them that rushing into a triumphalist gesture like playing Tests in Canberra and Townsville at the end of this tour, as their chief executive Maurice Lindsay would like, would be a mistake.

Now, more than ever, is the time for Super League to think calmly and strategically. A series between the two countries to launch the first season of global Super League next February will do the game far more good.