Rugby league: Leagues unite in a 'spirit of partnership'

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The Independent Online
THE SUPER League season is to start earlier next year in order to create space in the calendar for international rugby next October.

A potential row between the Rugby League and Super League was defused at a meeting in Salford yesterday, when Super League clubs agreed to move the opening round of next year's competition to the first weekend in March.

That means that the Grand Final will be played by mid-October, leaving Great Britain clear to take part in a triangular series in Australia, also involving New Zealand.

The move gives the chance to harmonise the British and Australian seasons and also creates the precedent of a slot at the end of the domestic season for the international programme.

It could also mean, however, that there is likely to be midweek rugby early in the season, with Super League fixtures interspersed with the Challenge Cup. This year, the Cup was played up to and including its semi- final stage before the opening of the Super League season at the start of April.

The chairman of the Rugby League, Sir Rodney Walker, called the compromise "a genuine new beginning ... The clearest possible sign of a new spirit of partnership."

In the same vein, Super League and the Rugby League have agreed that they will in future jointly promote any games that either is staging - "pooling our resources", as Sir Rodney put it.

The Rugby League Council has invited Hemel Hempstead to become associate members. They can now apply for the necessary grants to bring their stadium up to standard to join as full members from 2000 onwards. The meeting also ratified the membership of Gateshead, who join Super League next year.

The newcomers from the North-east signed a prospect from Australia yesterday, hiring the 19-year-old South Sydney half-back Willie Peters. He was among 10 signings unveiled, all of them from Down Under. They include the centre Deon Bird, 22, second row Alan Wieland, 24, winger Mat Daylight, 23, and prop Andrew Hick, 27, all from Adelaide. Also moving to Gateshead are the Cronulla full-back Ben Sammut, 23, the Illawarra pair of Craig Simon, a 24-year-old centre, and half-back Will Robinson, 27, the second row forward Tony Grimaldi, 23, from Canterbury, and the St George prop Luke Felch, 24.

The Great Britain coach, Andy Goodway, has said that late arrivals from Australia still have time to force their way into his side for the series against New Zealand this autumn.

The prop forward Harvey Howard is on loan to Bradford from Western Suburbs and the former Great Britain hooker, Lee Jackson, has agreed terms with Leeds and will join them after he has completed his commitments with the Newcastle Knights.