Rugby League: League's cease-fire is over as superpowers prepare for showdown

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The Independent Online
After an unusual period of peace, the world of rugby league is ready to break out into war again. Dave Hadfield looks at the two factions desperate for their hands to be on the controls of the game in Europe.

It is a theory I have seen proved many times that if, in some remote and obscure location there are just two people who are interested in rugby league, it is only a matter of time before they fall out with each other.

Perhaps it is something to do with the confrontational, man-on-man nature of the game, but here we go again.

With two profoundly damaging wars - between Super League and the Australian Rugby League and between the amateur and professional branches of the game in this country - having called cease-fires, it was a question of when and where hostilities would break out elsewhere.

Now we have our answer. The battle that has erupted is over who will run the game here at its highest level - and it will get a lot more messy and bloody before it is resolved.

On one side, there is the Rugby Football League, guardian of the game for 102 years, which, under the leadership of its then chief executive, Maurice Lindsay, made the deal with News Corporation that brought the European Super League into being; on the other, there is that offspring, known as Super League Europe, under its new managing director - Maurice Lindsay.

The RFL argues that it must administer the game, including the renegotiation of the contract, when and if that happens, in the interests of all its clubs. SLE says: "Oh no, you don't. Nothing to do with you."

The issue is complicated by personalities. Lindsay, after a campaign across a broad front to unseat him, was effectively sacked by the RFL's chairman, Sir Rodney Walker, earlier this month. Bizarrely, the condition of his going was that he would switch horses to SLE - an organisation which he previously described as getting ideas above its station when it should be showing a united front.

But, whereas he once believed that SLE should stick to its brief of simply marketing the Super League competition, Lindsay is now just as convinced as SLE's abrasive chairman, Chris Caisley, that it must be virtually autonomous.

This new unanimity is quite remarkable, because until a few weeks ago the mutual antagonism that existed between Lindsay and Caisley was a byword in the game. When the rival playground bruisers join forces, it is no wonder that the small fry, heavily implicated in Lindsay's removal from the League, fear for what might befall them behind the bike-sheds.

Super League clubs have already started to flex their muscles, both via Caisley's belligerent pronouncements and a meeting last night which, many others in the game fear, presages a breakaway.

All this is a damaging distraction from the game itself. Ironically, it comes at a time when there is much to look forward to in the third season of Super League, which promises a higher level of competition and entertainment than it delivered in the first two.

The timing is also significant in that it interrupts Super League's attempts to find a sponsor. It is hard to see how the strife and uncertainty can help that cause.

The hawks need to beware of a few other things as well. They might regard Lindsay's replacement at the League, Neil Tunnicliffe, as a lightweight, but, in his own quiet way, he will prove a tenacious fighter, well aware of the cards he has at his disposal.

Super League also risks losing its built-in excuse that it is being held back by the lower divisions. And, if they do go on their own, how long will it be, given some of the egos involved, before they start fighting among themselves? Looking at league's track record, not long at all.