Rugby League: Super League follows Aussies

THE third season of Super League received a double boost yesterday with the announcement of record prize-money for the winners and reassurance that there will be a full complement of 12 teams competing for it.

The winners of the inaugural JJB Sports Grand Final at Old Trafford in October will take home pounds 275,000, compared with the pounds 120,000 finishing first was worth to the Bradford Bulls last year.

The whole format is different this year. "There is no trophy and no prize- money for finishing first at the end of the league season," said Super League's managing director, Maurice Lindsay, at the Old Trafford launch for the new season. "Everything is geared to making the top five and going into the finals series."

That finals series is based unashamedly on the Australian system, where the leading five clubs play off against each other, leading to a Grand Final.

Matthew Elliott, the coach of the defending champions, who start their defence against the newcomers of Huddersfield this Friday night, welcomes the change.

"We are really looking forward to it at Bradford," he said. "The objective is to make the top five and then it is a new competition. It means that your most important match of the season is your last one."

For Hull, on the other hand, their most important match this season could be their first. Lindsay was able to announce that the crisis, which saw their chairman, David Lloyd, walk out last week, was over and that the Sharks were not about to sink.

The club's captain, Alan Hunte, repeated the message that all would be well, both for the opening fixture at Sheffield on Sunday and beyond.

"The players have had a meeting to clarify a few things and we are 100 per cent behind David Lloyd," he said. "A lot of people have panicked over nothing and there was never any problem as far as the players were concerned.

"It makes no difference to us whether our contracts are held by the club or by David Lloyd. It will be business as usual and our spectators - who are the most important people in all this - won't notice any difference either."

The ambition for the season generally, however, is that the public should notice a difference. The competition will be more heavily promoted than ever and Sky is to put extra technical resources into the televising of the sport.

Salford will impose a life ban on the spectator who attacked the referee, Stuart Cummings, at the end of their Silk Cut Challenge Cup semi-final defeat by Sheffield on Saturday.

The club says that if the man taken into custody after the incident and expected to be charged is shown to be one of their followers, he will never be allowed into The Willows again.

Lindsay has described the claim of a delegation from the Australian Rugby League that they are still owed pounds 400,000 from the 1995 World Cup, for which he was director, as "fatuous".

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