Rugby League: Murdoch wins Super League battle in Australia

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The Independent Online
In one of the more startling come-from-behind victories of recent times, Super League yesterday won the right to start up in Australia, with massive implications for the game worldwide. A complete form reversal in Sydney saw Rupert Murdoch's organisation overturn all 60 orders preventing its launch in Australia when the verdict was announced in the Federal Court.

It means that a 10-team Super League competition will kick off next year, in opposition to one involving the clubs that have stayed loyal to the Australian Rugby League.

More immediately, it raised the prospect of Great Britain rerouting from the New Zealand leg of their current tour to play the first Super League Test between the two countries at some stage between now and early November.

The importance of the deal to Murdoch's interests worldwide was underlined when Sky's shares went up 12p yesterday to a record price of 606.5p, increasing the stock market value of the company by pounds 206m to pounds 10.43bn.

Maurice Lindsay, the European Super League's chief executive, was in Sydney for the verdict yesterday and greeted the news with enthusiasm."It's like winning a cup final," he said.

Lindsay led the British game into an alliance with Super League last year and the initial court defeat banning them from starting up in Australia before 2000 threw into obvious doubt the viability of Super League operating in isolation in Britain.

"I must confess it gave me a few sleepless nights," Lindsay said. "But I've been completely faithful to the principles of Super League. I've stuck to those principles like glue and I'm quite proud of that."

Lindsay, who described the three judges' decision as "a stunning victory", said that there would "almost certainly be an international between Great Britain and Australia at the end of Great Britain's tour. We are going to sit down with our Australian colleagues and discuss the matter and try to find an available date in October."

That will raise logistical difficulties for the British party, several of whose members have commitments in England at the scheduled end of the tour.

But, inconvenient or not, the impetus to mark this dramatic turnaround in Super League's fortunes by pitting the game's two oldest rivals together as quickly as possible will be difficult to resist.

"Everyone on this tour has benefited financially from Super League," the Great Britain coach, Phil Larder, said. "Now we have responsibilities to Super League. If people are worried about this tour losing money, playing Australia is the one thing we can do about that."

Also back on the agenda is the World Club Championship between leading sides in the two countries, one of the most attractive aspects of the whole Super League concept when it was first mooted.

"We can now go ahead with all the exciting plans that Super League introduced," Larder said. The one sobering thought is that the long legal battle is unlikely to be over.

The ARL has the option of taking the case to a further appeal at the High Court, the Australian equivalent of the House of Lords. All the indications are that they will do so. The ARL's lawyer, Mark O'Brien, described the position as 1-1 with round three to come.

Ken Arthurson, the tough campaigner who fought the ARL's rearguard action against Super League, also indicated that the battle for supremacy would go on. "The situation now is that it looks as though there will be two competitions," he predicted for next season.

From the British camp, the tour manager Phil Lowe, who once played for Arthurson at Manly, called for a compromise.

"Ken Arthurson and Maurice Lindsay both have the good of the game at heart. Now both sides are in a position to show some common sense," he said.

"What we want and, more importantly, what the public wants are matches with the leading players in the world involved, be they ARL or Super League."

Murdoch's triumph, page 23