Rugby League: Halifax on endangered clubs list

Dave Hadfield discovers there is more at stake than relegation
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The Independent Online
THE PRESSURE mounts on Huddersfield today, with the possibility of slipping into last place in Super League, pushing the club towards the unwanted last resort of a merger with Halifax.

The Giants, with their playmaker Bobbie Goulding out for the season with a broken leg, face another thrashing at home to Wigan this afternoon. If that happens, a Halifax defeat at Hull would push Huddersfield into the relegation place.

The timing could hardly be more ominous, because on Tuesday Super League clubs meet again to discuss various devices for reducing the competition to 12 teams - something they fondly imagine will bring higher standards as well as bigger share-outs for the survivors.

Merging Huddersfield and Halifax is one of the favoured options for the reductionists - some of whom were talking just as blithely about an increase to 16 clubs just a few months ago. The problem is that neither club wants anything to do with the idea; put one of them on the brink of a drop into the Northern Ford Premiership, however, and the situation could change.

At present, Huddersfield would bring more to the party off the field than on it. Their McAlpine Stadium is an admirable setting for big games, but it does not look too good with crowds of fewer than 3,000 watching an extremely poor team. Halifax are tied into a ground-share with their neighbouring football team at The Shay, which is no more the historic home of rugby league in the town than the McAlpine would be.

Unlike Huddersfield, with Ken Davy, they do not have a wealthy and generous benefactor; but, despite the predations of other clubs since their financial problems surfaced, they still have the nucleus of a decent side and the residue of a healthy support base.

Huddersfield have a ground and a sugar daddy and Halifax have the greater strength in players and spectators. Bridge the few miles between them and what do you get? Probably something that will satisfy nobody, but that does not mean that the impetus to make it happen is absent.

Hull, with severe problems of their own, would probably be presented with the choice of merging with Hull KR or going down if they finish last - and possibly even if they do not. Much as the idea of merger has appalled them in the past, there are Hull fans now who would regard a new entity as the lesser of two evils when set alongside the prospect of continuing under David Lloyd.

For now, however, they must fancy their chances of taking advantage of Halifax's disarray at The Boulevard today. Indeed, towards the end of their match against Gateshead on Wednesday there were signs of them holding something back.

Meanwhile, those who think that a magic number - 12? 10? - will solve Super League's over-riding flaw of disparate playing standards should look at events in Australia. South Sydney, who have won more Premierships than anyone, are in the firing line to become one of the sacrificial victims as News Ltd insist on a reduction to 14. They will not go quietly. The court case will go on for years and there is even talk of Souths taking themselves, and their thriving junior set-up, to rugby union.

Nobody who truly cares about the future of the game there believes that the imagined gain is worth the pain any more. Nor would it be in Britain, but it adds an edge to events in Hull and Huddersfield today.

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