Rugby League: Kiwis' Wembley debut

THE Rugby League is taking a calculated gamble by staging the first Test of New Zealand's tour this autumn at Wembley. The Kiwis will play at the stadium for the first time on 16 October, with the other two Tests to follow at Wigan on 30 October and Headingley on 6 November.

Great Britain have played Australia twice at Wembley in recent years, attracting 54,569 for the first Test in 1990 and an international record crowd of 73,631 for the World Cup final last year.

New Zealand traditionally draw only moderate crowds in Britain, but the decision to use Wembley reflects the League's belief that this tour could see that change.

The two sides have met 12 times since 1985 and nine of those matches have been decided by four points or less. 'It is that prospect of a highly competitive series, and the presence of stars like Frano Botica, Kevin Iro and Tawera Nikau who are already well-known in Britain, which are the main selling points,' the League's public affairs executive, David Howes, said.

The best gate for the Kiwis in recent years was 22,209 at Elland Road in 1985, but the move to Wembley will not be regarded as a complete success unless the all- time record of 42,680 at Bradford in 1947 is beaten.

With the All-Blacks touring at the same time, the League is keen for the Kiwi tour to have a high profile. The rest of the itinerary is to be announced next week.

Sheffield's captain, Darryl Powell, has shaken off the chicken pox which debilitated him during the match against Widnes last week for the meeting with Leigh that is one of two matches tonight with great significance for the foot of the First Division.

The game is the Eagles' contribution to the centenary celebrations for their city. Powell needs one try to become the first player to score 100 for the club.

Mark Laurie will start his first match for Salford at home to Bradford Northern. Salford and Leigh still look likely to contest one of the two relegation spots, but victory for both tonight would drag Sheffield into trouble.

Steve Pilgrim, the Wasps and England B full-back banned from rugby union for a year after playing a trial for Leeds, is to appear in another reserve team game this weekend. Pilgrim is to play against Dewsbury in the Alliance Challenge Cup tomorrow. 'If he does the business, we may then move to sign him, but we are short of money,' Doug Laughton, the Leeds coach, said.