Rugby League: Future of game rests solely in clubs' hands

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The Independent Online
Professional clubs are having it spelt out to them that they must finance the development of the game in their areas out of their financial allocation from Rupert Murdoch's Super League.

A strategic development plan from Rugby League headquarters puts the responsibility for the game in established areas squarely on the shoulders of the clubs, leaving the central governing body to concentrate on expansion elsewhere.

"They will be expected to provide equipment, personnel and targeted funding (from the News Corporation distributions and/or from Sportsmatched sponsorship deals) for the strengthening of the foundations of the game in their own vicinities," the plan about the role of the clubs says.

Clubs should really need little persuading of the benefits of this approach, although, at a time when the professional and amateur sides of the game may be edging towards reunification, some amateurs may remember the pre- 1973 era when clubs were meant to carry out these responsibilities and failed badly in the task.

Boundaries will have to be drawn to separate clubs' spheres of influence. The two clubs out on a limb, Sheffield Eagles and London Broncos, are being told to concentrate on the areas covered by the East Midlands and Southern Counties development associations.

Other proposals in the plan include turning the Alliance competition into one restricted to under-21s and abolishing the restrictions on ex- professionals in the amateur game.

The chairman of the Australian Rugby League, Ken Arthurson, is retiring for health reasons. Arthurson, 67, has led the ARL's fight against the attempted takeover of the game by Super League and his departure further weakens their resistance.

In the last three months, the ARL have lost a crucial court case and seen their chief executive, John Quayle, and now Arthurson retreat from the fray.

Last week, Kerry Packer's Channel Nine, Arthurson's main ally in his battle, announced that they had struck a deal with Super League, leaving Arthurson to wonder aloud whether it was worth carrying on. He has clearly decided, in view of the strain involved, that it is not.

London Broncos have confirmed they will share the Stoop with Harlequins this season. Harlequins, who borrowed Gary Connolly and Robbie Paul from league this winter, have a capacity of 10,000, which the Broncos' chairman, Barry Maranta, hopes to strain to the limit for their season opener, against the champions, St Helens, on 16 March.

Great Britain's captain, Andy Farrell, is over a thigh strain and will lead the national squad in the World Nines in Townsville, Australia next weekend.