Rugby League: Setback as World Nines dumped

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THE GAME'S international development has suffered a significant blow with the cancellation of the World Nines in Johannesburg less than five weeks before the tournament was due to take place.

The 10-team event has been scrapped because of a lack of television coverage in Britain and Australia, according to the South African Rugby League. "Sky could not find a spot for it at short notice and that had an impact on sponsors," said its chairman, Barry Haslam.

The tournament was only awarded to South Africa last month after an offer from Louis Luyt, the former president of the South African Rugby Football Union, to underwrite it. Luyt owns Ellis Park and is eager to stage events there; particularly ones, it seems, that cut across his former Sarfu allies.

"We are very disappointed that the World Nines will not be taking place, but we understand the reasons," said the Rugby League's chief executive, Neil Tunnicliffe. "It was always going to be difficult to organise the tournament in such a short time frame."

Sky Television said yesterday that the shortage of time had indeed been the problem. "We were not informed about the tournament until 21 December and that didn't give time to schedule the event," a spokesman said. "At no stage was Sky committed to covering it."

The next meeting of the international federation and the draw for the 2000 World Cup, both earmarked for the same week in Johannesburg, will now be re-arranged.

The 2000 and 2001 Nines tournaments, also awarded to South Africa, are still scheduled to take place there, as is the one-off match between Great Britain and New Zealand in November, but the credibility of the event has suffered greatly.

Ironically, the news of the cancellation came on the day that the Great Britain coach, Andy Goodway, named a 14-man squad for the tournament. Nobody will be more disappointed at it being scrapped than two teenagers, with only a brief taste of first-team rugby behind them, who had been included in the party.

Stuart Fielden, a 19-year-old prop, made his mark in Bradford's injury- hit pack last season, while Leeds' Kevin Sinfield is even more of an emerging talent. The 18-year-old loose forward or stand-off only figured briefly in the first team last year, but impressed in the Christmas friendlies against Halifax and Castleford. Goodway had included both players with the World Cup in Britain in 2000 in mind, planning to give them international experience now in order to accelerate their development.

One of Britain's greatest players of the modern era, Garry Schofield, has agreed to make a playing come-back with struggling Doncaster. Schofield was sacked as player-coach at Huddersfield last season and has been playing rugby union at Aberavon.

The one stumbling block in the way of his return to league at the age of 33 is that Doncaster have to show that they are financially viable before being confirmed in membership of the First Division for the coming season.

The former Great Britain second-rower, Sonny Nickle, has rejoined St Helens, the club that sacrificed him in order to sign Paul Newlove three years ago. Nickle, now 29, was one of three players who moved to Bradford in exchange for Newlove in November 1995. He has been released as a free agent with one year of his contract to run, so joins Ellery Hanley's squad for next season without costing a fee.