Rugby League: Sheffield awaiting outcome of vote on new club

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SHEFFIELD WILL discover today whether the city will have a professional side to call its own next season when a meeting of the Rugby League Council at Salford votes on an application by a new Eagles club to join the Northern Ford Premiership for fixtures that begin in less than three weeks' time.

The previous Eagles club has been absorbed into the newly-merged Sheffield and Huddersfield Giants, which is supposed to play half its Super League matches at Bramall Lane, but there is little enthusiasm in the city for the new entity. The former Eagles captain and prospective player-coach of the new team, Mark Aston, believes that supporters would get behind the revived club and the indications are that there are sufficient votes to get them into the Premiership.

The potential snag is that Bramley could be having second thoughts about resigning from the competition in order to become a feeder club for Leeds. An alternative plan would see them play at Farsley Celtic's football ground and retain their senior status. That would sabotage Sheffield's plans, because the Premiership is unlikely to want more than 18 clubs.

The League is desperate for the matter to be resolved, one way or the other, so that they can belatedly publish the Premiership fixtures. The meeting will also be lobbied by supporters of the Gateshead Thunder, understandably outraged by the way their club has been snatched away from them after only one season.

Although the Council is powerless to do much about the merger with Hull after the two companies have finalised it, there will be many at Salford who will want to give encouragement to Plan B, a new club under the Thunder banner in 2001. The former Gateshead chief executive, Shane Richardson, has given permission for the Thunder's logo, name and strip to be used by the new club, if the revival is successful.

The 2001 season will seem so far away, however, to administrators not noted for their length or breadth of vision, that nothing of practical value to the Gateshead demonstrators is like to be on offer.

The meeting will also discuss whether to adopt a new system for substitutions, with a total of eight changes involving four interchange players to be permitted. Many will oppose any further dilution of the game's traditions, but its attraction is as a compromise that might persuade the Australians to abandon unlimited interchange at international level.