Rugby League: Sponsors provide timely lift

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The Independent Online
THE Challenge Cup's sponsors yesterday showed confidence in the competition's future by extending their backing into the next millennium. Now the hope is that the game's supporters will rally round tomorrow to prevent Wembley being embarrassingly empty for this year's final.

Silk Cut, who have sponsored the Cup for 14 years, have added another two years to their current deal, which is due to end after next season's final.

In 2001, their support will amount to the sport's first pounds 1m sponsorship for a season and is a valuable vote of confidence on the eve of what could be Wembley's worst-attended final for over 50 years.

Sheffield Eagles, for all their progress on the field, have not built up their support correspondingly and have returned half of their ticket allocation of 14,000.

That means, even with a good walk-up attendance on the day, the gate is unlikely to top 65,000, which would make it the smallest since 54,730 watched Wakefield Trinity play this season's hot favourites, Wigan, in 1946.

Part of the problem is that few expect the match to be an evenly-balanced contest, with the Eagles given little or no chance of victory.

Castleford are to hold talks aimed at keeping their coach, Stuart Raper, with them beyond the expiry of his contract at the end of this season.

Raper, who steered Cas away from relegation last season, has been linked with his old club, Cronulla, whose coach, John Lang, is expected to join Sydney City next year.

The French government has agreed to set up an inquiry into claims by the new pressure group, XIII-Actif, that Rugby League's assets were stolen by the Vichy regime.

The group is campaigning for the restitution of funds that were confiscated during World War II.