Rugby League: Hull force pay cuts on players

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HULL ARE struggling to fulfil their fixture at Warrington tomorrow amid the threat of a players' strike over pay cuts.

The club's owner, David Lloyd, has told the players, via the city's evening paper, that any of them on contracts over pounds 24,000 a year will have them cut back to that figure.

The players were due to meet this morning, after picking up their reduced wage packets yesterday afternoon, to decide their course of action.

"It's a squad thing, because the players have decided that it affects them all equally," said the chairman of the Rugby League Players' Association, Abi Ekoku, who was called in yesterday, only to find that there was nobody from the club's administration to meet him.

Eleven players are directly affected, with some facing pay cuts of a half to two-thirds, with the promise of being reimbursed only if Hull, currently bottom of Super League, avoid relegation.

"This would mean the contracts are not worth the paper they are signed on," said Ekoku, who is already acting for players at Featherstone who have not been paid their full salaries this month.

"Traditionally, rugby league players are very resilient and very forgiving. They rock and roll with the turmoil, but this case is different, because the club is in clear breach of their confidence."

Super League, which has already advanced money against future allocations to help Hull through a dismal season, said that it had assurances from the Players' Association that the Warrington game would go ahead, with Hull fielding a full-strength team.

Any other outcome would complicate the race for fifth place in Super League, with Warrington chasing Gateshead and Castleford for a berth in the play-offs.

Gateshead have Adam Maher back in their squad for their match against Wigan at Hearts' ground in Edinburgh, while Cas will be unchanged against a London team hoping for Karle Hammond to recover from a dead leg in time to play.

The Super League leaders, Bradford, go to Salford, who make changes after last week's thrashing at Wigan, which included a mind-boggling sequence of seven tries conceded in 16 minutes.

Malcolm Alker and Hudson Smith are out injured, with Warren Ayres coming in at hooker and Dave Bradbury shoring up the forward strength. Gary Broadbent reverts to his usual position of full-back for the first time under the coaching of John Harvey, with Bobby Thompson swapping with him to go to centre and Jim Forshaw, who has impressed in the Alliance and Academy teams, on the bench.

Bradford, well clear at the top, will still be without Robbie Paul, thanks to his foot ligament problem, and will no doubt operate the now fashionable squad rotation system to give other players a rest.

Leeds will have centre Richie Blackmore back in their side for the first time since Wembley on 1 May for their game at Wakefield, while prop Mick Slicker, signed by Sheffield from Halifax for the rest of the season, is poised to make his debut against his previous club.