Rugby league goes global

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The Independent Online
BRITISH rugby league yesterday made its most far-reaching decision since the split that created the code a century ago by eagerly accepting the big money from Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation to set up a Super League, starting next summer.

Two hours of discussion among club chairmen at Wigan yesterday produced a unanimous vote in favour of the five-year, £75m Murdoch package. It will mean a 14-team league, partly created by amalgamations and including two new clubs set up by Jacques Fouroux in France.

The other completely new operation will be in Cardiff, but they will play initially in the new British First Division, which will also play in the summer, but, for the first two seasons of the Super League, will not have promotion into the top flight.

"There is no doubt that this is the most important day in rugby league since 1895," said the League's chief executive, Maurice Lindsay. "Today's historic decision paves the way for the future of the sport, not only in Britain but across the globe."

That global dimension involves not only annual world championship play- offs with the parallel break-away league in the southern hemisphere, but also vastly increased exposure for the code in other parts of the world, from which, it is hoped, other international sides will come.

The plan approved at Central Park involves making this the last conventional season. The 1995-96 season will be a shortened, transitional affair, allowing for the Super League to kick off in March 1996. "I think it's tremendous," said Jack Robinson, the chairman of Wigan, a club that has dominated the domestic game for the past decade. "Teams like the one formed from Castleford, Wakefield and Featherstone will be fiercely competitive. There will be no easy games for Wigan any more."

The mechanics of the transformation are likely to be problematic, especially as the League has set itself the target of having its amalgamations in place and its elite playing a trial run in the Premier League during the truncated 1995-6 season. That puts pressure on clubs to start merger talks now - whatever the qualms of their fans - or risk being left behind. Among the old enmities that will have to be put aside if the plan is to work are those between Hull and Hull Kingston Rovers and the four existing clubs in Cumbria.

There will be a price to be paid - the 1996 tour to Australia is now an impossibility and this October's Centenary World Cup is at risk - but the mood of the second rugby revolution yesterday was that it was one worth paying if the alternative was turning away Murdoch and his millions.

Revolution starts here,

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