Rugby League: Murdoch's cash offer appeals to rival ARL

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The Independent Online
Rupert Murdoch is prepared to spend a further Aus$350 million (pounds 163m) over the next five years to unify rugby league in Australia under the Super League banner.

According to reports in two Murdoch-controlled newspapers yesterday, the cash injection would double his investment in seeking a controlling financial interest in rugby league in the sport's strongest playing nation.

The offer, conditional on the Australian Rugby League clubs agreeing to join a merged competition with Super League, will be tabled at talks between the two ruling bodies tomorrow, Sydney's Daily Telegraph said.

"This offer will confirm Rupert Murdoch's desire to make Super League work despite expenditure since 1995 of more than Aus$300 million," the newspaper said.

The additional funding would be divided between 14 clubs in an elite league, a condition that, if accepted, would force several existing clubs to either merge or risk being left out.

The 12 ARL clubs are expected to consider the unified competition plan later this week.

Murdoch launched the 10-team Super League in March in direct competition against the established ARL Premiership, which fielded 12 clubs, mainly in Sydney. Since the split, crowds and television ratings in the states of New South Wales and Queensland, the sport's heartland, have plummeted, prompting both sides to enter compromise talks.

Murdoch's News Ltd, the Australian arm of News Corp, has screened Super League matches on pay television in Australia and overseas. ARL matches have been shown in Australia on a rival pay television channel, Optus Vision.

If a unified competition emerges next year, it is expected the ARL would run the league on a day-to-day basis while Murdoch's News Ltd would retain ultimate financial control.

In Britain, Sir Rodney Walker is considering his future as the chairman and director of the Rugby League. Following yesterday's meeting of clubs to discuss issues facing the game prior to a meeting of the League Council on 3 September, Sir Rodney revealed that he was not certain to seek re- election.

Sir Rodney said: "I am considering my future. Whether I stand again or I am asked to stand for election depends on things that happen between now and 3 September as well as people's reaction to proposals and ideas we discussed today."