Rugby League: Premiership plan winter game to boost crowds

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The Independent Online
CLUBS IN the Northern Ford Premiership are to make a partial return to winter rugby by starting next season's fixtures on Boxing Day. The decision in principle to run a season from December to the Grand Final in July comes against the background of declining attendances and the end next year of funding from News Corporation.

The plan is to start the season with local derbies over the Christmas and New Year holidays and then have three months free of competition with Super League.

Another perceived advantage is that any Grand Final winner promoted to Super League for the following year will have longer in which to prepare. "This earlier start will give the Northern Ford Premiership a huge boost and help us to attract bigger crowds and media interest," said the chairman of the Association of Premiership Clubs, Bob McDermott.

A final decision on the restructuring will have to be made by the game as a whole, but it is unlikely that it will be opposed. "It is a little premature for it to have come into the public arena," said a Rugby League spokesman. "It has been discussed, but it will need to be ratified by the Rugby League Council."

The All Party Rugby League Group of MPs has called for Super League to be reintegrated with the Rugby League at administrative level as part of its evidence to the select committee on culture, media and sport which began its inquiry into the future of professional rugby of both codes yesterday.

Halifax's biggest close season signing, Paul Broadbent, heads the list of those seeking new clubs. Broadbent is one of the players who has refused to sign a waiver allowing his contract to be torn up at the end of this season. He will continue to play for the club but said: "They have told me they will let me go if anyone comes in for me."

Wigan finally unveiled the signing of Chris Chester from Halifax on Sunday and will complete the transfer of Gavin Clinch when he receives a new work permit.

The League's controller of referees, Greg McCallum, has said that there will be an inquiry into the sin-binning of five Wakefield Trinity players by Nick Oddy at Wigan on Sunday. The Wakefield coach, Andy Kelly, has viewed the video of the game, but McCallum, on compassionate leave in Australia, had already ruled that there would be an inquiry.

The League has also cited the St Helens forward Vila Matautia for a suspected high tackle for which he was placed on report at Bradford on Friday.