Rugby League: Offiah's Sydney problem

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WIGAN are demanding that Martin Offiah must be insured for pounds 500,000 before letting him play in Australia this summer. Offiah is due to join the Sydney club, Eastern Suburbs, on loan when he finishes his commitments with Wigan in May and the amount of cover could put the deal in jeopardy.

Wigan want to be covered for the world-record pounds 440,000 they paid Widnes for Offiah last January, plus the value of his lucrative contract, in case he is badly injured and cannot play again. They are also insisting on being paid pro rata if he returns with an injury that forces him to miss games next season.

'I don't think we are asking anything unreasonable,' Jack Robinson, the Wigan chairman, said. 'We are just learning from our mistakes. Ellery Hanley went to Western Suburbs in 1989 and came back with an injury that made him miss half of the season. We never got a penny in compensation and we do not want to go through that rigmarole again.'

Offiah and the other six Wigan players in the Great Britain squad to play France in Carcassonne on 7 March will be able to play for their club at Leeds four days earlier in spite of the Rugby League's standing order keeping Test players out of domestic matches during the preceding week.

Wigan have succeeded in their application to have the seven released, arguing that they face a fixture nightmare in the remaining weeks of the season if the match is postponed. Leeds will have Hanley and Garry Schofield released from the squad for the same match. St Helens and Castleford, who meet at Knowsley Road, and Hull, who are at Halifax, will also be able to field their Great Britain players.

This means that 14 of Malcolm Reilly's 19-man squad will be playing next Wednesday, delaying the fitness tests and the final selection of the side until Thursday.

The effect will be to downgrade marginally a fixture against the French that already struggles for credibility, but the League is anxious to avoid a repetition of the pile-up of two years ago, when Wigan played 10 games in 22 days at the end of the season.

The League yesterday launched an pounds 80,000 skills award scheme for youngsters aged 5 to 17. The scheme, which is being jointly funded by British Fuels Limited and The Institute of Sport, is aimed at encouraging schoolchildren to develop their skills outside the game itself and to be tested on a graded scale.