Rugby League: Super League rejects Welsh bids

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The Independent Online
TWO DOWN, one to go. Super League has put its expansion plans on hold, rejecting its two Welsh applicants, at least until next year, and giving Gateshead until next Monday to prove that it has a more compelling case.

Cardiff and Swansea, both of whom hoped to be in Super League next year, had their applications judged "incomplete" by the accountants Deloitte Touche, Super League's managing director, Maurice Lindsay, said after a meeting of the elite clubs in Huddersfield yesterday.

"They have both asked to be considered for the year 2000 and we will be giving them every encouragement between now and then, because we want them both in Super League," he said.

Super League's chairman, Chris Caisley, said that both Super League and the Rugby League had been disappointed by Deloitte's findings when they were revealed on Monday.

"I don't think we've been too stringent," he said. "If there is any doubt that they can pay for everything they would have to do, is anyone suggesting that we should take a flyer on them and suffer the consequences later? We must make sure that any club that comes in will be of sufficient strength."

The push for a franchise in Gateshead was given marginally more encouragement. They have four days to come up with further details on contractual matters with the local council and of their own financial underpinning.

"Each bid had something to recommend it," Caisley said. "But it was felt that the people behind the Gateshead bid had a good track record and were of a calibre that made them more likely to succeed."

Kath Hetherington, the co-founder of Sheffield Eagles and a partner in the Gateshead effort, confirmed that they would be carrying on their fight for inclusion.

"I still think and believe we can do it," she said. "I need to clarify precisely what they want from us, but I have always believed that if rugby league won't work in Gateshead it won't work anywhere. We will be working hard between now and Monday, just as we have been ever since we launched this bid."

Gateshead has been used successfully as a venue for a number of matches over the last few years and for two only modestly supported fixtures during Super League's recent "roadshow" series of games.

The success of the two games in Swansea and Cardiff, which between them attracted more than 13,000 spectators, raised expectancy in South Wales that both would be admitted, especially when Lindsay added his support.

"We were buoyed up by the roadshow and the experience we had there," Caisley said. "We had hoped to admit all three."

That, on paper, is still the ultimate aim, although both Welsh applicants will be disgruntled at being kept hanging on in hope for so long.

Peter Tunks, the prospective chief executive of the Cardiff club, disagreed yesterday with Deloitte's claims that financial information had not been supplied. "We made everything available that was asked for," he said, but admitted that, after all the delays in considering the application, his consortium would now be "more comfortable" with a start date in 2000.

Swansea have also told Super League that they are keeping their consortium together and that, by next year, hope to have something solid to show in the shape of a new stadium at Morfa, which would be shared with Swansea City.

But, for now, the only new frontier is the one in the North-east. Super League clubs agreed yesterday to leave the decision on the last of the three applications to its board of directors, a body which includes Kath Hetherington's husband, the Leeds chief executive, Gary.

Even if Gateshead are allowed into the fold, Super League's progress towards a national profile will look disappointingly slow to Sky Television. The satellite broadcaster's financial backing will ultimately depend on the competition expanding.

There are also bound to be suspicions of self-interest at work as new clubs would inevitably cost the existing ones money from their Sky allocation. If that was a consideration yesterday, it was a particularly short-sighted one.