Rugby League: Little hope for Super League applicants

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ALL THREE new clubs bidding for membership of Super League next season are likely to be snubbed today.

Cardiff, Swansea and Gateshead all had high hopes of getting the go-ahead from a meeting of Super League clubs in Huddersfield this afternoon.

But the directors of both Super League and the Rugby League are urging caution after hearing reports on the financial viability of the three bids from the accountants, Deloitte Touche, on Monday.

Although none of the parties to that meeting is saying anything on the record - an asto-nishing feat of discretion in the loose-lipped world of rugby league - I understand that there was general alarm at the picture painted by Deloitte.

There has been widespread support within the game for the principle of spreading to new areas - not least because Sky is pushing in that direction - but there is now a fear that none of the applicants has sufficient cash up front to start a club successfully.

That raises the spectre of another short-lived failure, like Paris St Germain, or, going further back into the sport's chequered history of expansion, Scarborough or Kent Invicta.

A number of Super League clubs are strongly committed to the idea of new franchises, even though it will cost them part of their share of the cash allocation from News Ltd. But they can be expected to back-track very rapidly today if it looks as though the newcomers would prove to be a heavy financial burden.

That would be a damaging climb-down for the game as a whole. The merits of the three applications have been loudly trumpeted, not least by Super League's managing director, Maurice Lindsay, and an ann-ouncement today that none of them measures up will be an admission that potential inves- tors are not interested in the code.

Following the death of the last South Wales club two years ago, the failure to bring either Cardiff or Swansea into the fold at a time when rugby union in the Principality is in such disarray will be widely seen as a last chance lost.

It is understood that Gateshead are seen as being closer to meeting the relevant financial criteria than the two Welsh applicants but still fall well short.

Today's meeting could try to save face by delaying all three applications until the season after next, or could even tell them that they can still get in this time, provided they can satisfy the accountants that they have the funds in place.

Realistically, however, time has virtually run out. It would already be a mad dash for any of the applicants to get their playing and coaching staffs in position for next spring and a further delay would probably end their hopes.

That would please those who believe that the game is best confined to the M62 corridor and those who fear that the available talent would be too thinly spread among as many as 15 Super League clubs.