Rugby League: Super League contracts declared void in Australia

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Four Australian-based players have had their Super League contracts declared void by a judge who has criticised clauses giving the Rupert Murdoch-backed organisation the right to tell them where to play.

Three Australian internationals, Dean Pay, Jason Smith and Jim Dymock, plus the New Zealander, Jason McCracken, can now leave the Super League- aligned Canterbury Bulldogs to play for Parramatta, one of the clubs loyal to the Australian Rugby League in the battle that has split the game.

Justice Brian Hill said that there were "numerous deficiencies" in the contracts they had signed, which had been executed in "a most slipshod manner". In particular, he was critical of the powers the contract gave Super League to determine for whom the four should play - powers that go far beyond those included in the equivalent document in Britain, which have come to light this week.

The ARL executive chairman, Ken Arthurson, was swift to seize upon the victory and to suggest that it could have repercussions in Britain. "The judge was very damning in his findings and the control of News Corporation over the transfer of players was one of the things causing him enormous concern," Arthurson said. "News Corporation is demanding, by and large, that they have a veto on player contracts and the biggest joke in all of this is that the English Rugby League has accepted this.

"It's got to be made clear to people that sport is being taken over and controlled by a media empire and that is wrong."

The Super League's chief executive, John Ribot, part of whose evidence was described by the judge as unconvincing, called the verdict "merely a minor setback". The ruling, far from making all Super League contracts void, could, he said, cut both ways, giving players a legal precedent to seek a way out of contracts with the ARL. The result, however, gives the ARL even greater confidence that they will also win the key court- room battle, the one that will decide whether clubs can leave the ARL to join Super League, the result of which is expected soon.

England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales have been invited to compete in the first Fiji nine-a-side tournament in February. The Silk Cut Challenge Cup will be taking place at the same time, so squads will be selected from teams already eliminated.

Paul Newlove has been cleared of a suspected broken ankle, but will still miss the Boxing Day derby fixture at Wigan, and probably the Regal Trophy semi-final against Warrington four days later, with tendon damage.

Halifax have reluctantly transfer-listed their hooker, Paul Rowley, whom they signed from Leigh 13 months ago, at pounds 250,000 at his own request. Wigan are expected to be interested in the player, if not the price.

Hull have confirmed that the former New South Wales and Australia full- back, Phil Sigsworth, is to be their new coach and will arrive in the new year to take up his post.