Rugby League: RL hints at action over Pilgrim ban

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The Independent Online
THE Steve Pilgrim affair could be the catalyst that finally forces rugby league to tackle rugby union over its attitudes and actions towards another sport.

Pilgrim has been banned from union for a year after playing a trial match in Leeds' Alliance team. Leeds may or may not offer the Wasps and England B full-back a contract, opinions within the club varying as to the quality of his debut, but they and the Rugby League are appalled at his treatment by the Rugby Football Union.

'They have acted typically,' Alf Davies, the Leeds chief executive, said. 'I was led to believe that there was some sort of thaw in relationships between the games but that is obviously not the case.'

The Leeds coach, Doug Laughton, stressed that Pilgrim had only received expenses for his game against Wakefield Trinity on Tuesday night. 'There will be 10 or 15 players at Cardiff Arms Park who have earned a lot more from rugby than Steve Pilgrim,' he said.

'If those players had anything about them, they would refuse to play in protest at the way one of their colleagues has been treated.'

David Hinchcliffe, the MP for Wakefield and a member of the parliamentary rugby league group, is being approached to take up the case.

Even the Rugby League, notoriously reluctant to be drawn into conflict with union, is making unusually angry noises over Pilgrim's punishment.

'He should consult his MP and strike back through the European courts,' suggested the League's public affairs executive, David Howes. 'It's a constraint on basic human freedom.' If the League backs encouraging words like that with action, Pilgrim's predicament may yet produce some progress.

Events off the field threaten to overshadow this weekend's games. Wigan have Phil Clarke and Neil Cowie available again after injury against Bradford Northern, while two sides in relegation danger call in overseas reinforcements to try to improve their position.

Mark Laurie, the Parramatta forward who spent two periods with Leeds, will make his debut as a substitute for Salford at Halifax.

Leigh have two new Australians, but their coach, Steve Simms, has to decide whether to throw them straight into action against Wakefield. Troy Clarke, a centre from Canterbury, has been playing with Carlisle, while Dean Hanger, a back from the Central Coast of New South Wales, has been training with Wigan.

The Hull chairman, Steve Watson, has been appointed the Great Britain manager until the end of the season. Gary Hetherington of Sheffield Eagles and Tony Beevers of Halifax were the other candidates for the job.

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