Rugby League: Game makes wrong moves

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RUGBY LEAGUE is likely to begin 1993 by taking a massive step backwards.

A special meeting of clubs on 6 January is set to agree a return to two divisions, both of them far too big, and a season that is far too long. The result will be an increase in the number of meaningless, uncompetive games; the clubs that believe this is the way out of their financial problems are heading for a bitter disappointment.

The search for a panacea for another perceived ill - the lack of any depth of British talent in certain positions - may also lead clubs to tighten restrictions on overseas players.

Wrong again; all this will achieve is to lessen the appeal of the game to the paying spectator, who simply wants to see the best players available.

The war between the amateur and professional governing bodies shows signs of ending, which is one bright spot on the horizon. But the era of confidence and expansion, which began with the admission of Fulham in 1980, is well and truly over. By one means or another, the professional game is likely to contract.

It is hard to shrug off the fear that the game in Britain, two years away from its centenary, is losing its way.

It badly needs a stimulating year on the field. The New Zealand tourists, who arrive in October, will be distinctly useful under a clued-up coach like Howie Tamati. They traditionally fail to pull in big crowds, but they are capable of winning the Test series.

Domestically, the two big questions both concern Wigan. Can anyone stop them winning all the major prizes and who will succeed John Monie as coach?

The answer to the first depends on St Helens staying in touch in the First Division, or somebody catching Wigan on a rare bad day in a cup-tie. As for the second, it is long odds against him being the holder of a British passport.