Rugby League: Lower division clubs fear for their future

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Clubs outside Super League are seeking an urgent meeting over suggestions that they could be cut adrift when the game's current contract with News Limited expires, writes Dave Hadfield.

First and Second Division clubs get scaled down payments from the Murdoch organisation - something they were guaranteed when they agreed to the formation of Super League two years ago.

But now a discussion paper circulated by the League's board of directors has alarmed many by urging clubs outside the top division to prepare for a future without television revenue after the present five-year deal expires in the year 2000.

Some see this as a thinly veiled threat, and there is even talk of Murdoch paying "funeral expenses" - a one-off sum after which clubs outside Super League would be left to swim or, more likely, sink.

"I am very concerned and I am seeking an urgent meeting with the chairman of the League, Sir Rodney Walker," said Bob Scott, the general manager of the Association of First and Second Division Clubs.

"If the plan is to dump us, we need to have it out in the open so that everyone can see the implications."

According to one scenario, some clubs within Super League would not be immune from the blood-letting. Three clubs - Oldham, Castleford and Halifax - are said by some to be in danger of expulsion because they cannot meet off-field criteria.

Neither they nor the First and Second Division clubs will accept their fate quietly. As part of a counter-attack, there are already calls for the League's accounts - covering the last 19 months - to be made public.

"Clubs in divisions one and two have expressed their concern, because the date of the next council meeting, at which the accounts could be discussed, is still not known," Scott said.

Clubs believe that those accounts will tell an alarming story about the running costs of the League's headquarters at Red Hall, near Leeds.