Rugby League: Super League sharpen the axe

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The Independent Online
THE MEETING of Super League clubs in Leeds yesterday failed to produce the sudden extinction for some that had been flagged up in advance. But, in the long term, those with a declared determination to improve the competition believe they have a mechanism to get rid of what they regard as the dead wood.

Under the measures agreed at Headingley, all Super League clubs will have to reapply for their places for the 2002 season. Those applications will be analysed by an independent tribunal, awarding or withholding points for such aspects of their operation as crowds, facilities, finance, results and junior development. Those who do not shape up will be shipped out, insists Super League's board of directors.

"As far as we are concerned, clubs cannot escape from this," said the organisation's managing director, Maurice Lindsay. "If any club doesn't come up to standard, it won't be there in 2002."

Along with the big stick comes a couple of carrots. Any club which fails in its application will have a sweetener of pounds 325,000 to help it settle into its reduced circumstances in the Northern Ford Premiership.

More significant - and more ominous in the eyes of supporters who suspect a hidden agenda - is a hefty inducement to persuade clubs to consider merging. Any those who make "an irrevocable decision" to do so before 30 September this year will get an extra pounds 1.25m as a wedding present, reduced to pounds 1m if they do the deed by 30 September 2000.

With memories of the riots that accompanied their ham-fisted attempts to force mergers in 1995, Super League chiefs deny trying to force the issue this time. But, according to Super League's chairman, Chris Caisley, there are clubs actively considering mergers.

Two of the reputed contenders, Sheffield and Halifax, had representatives on hand to deny that it was them, but the inducement to join forces is now considerable and similar tactics have worked in Australia.

Proposals to press ahead with reducing the competition from 14 to 12 clubs were shelved, mainly because until Super League receives the result of the assessment procedure and any merger negotiations, it will not know how many members it has. It is also doubtful, however, whether the bigger clubs could have pushed through a straightforward cull of two of their weaker brethren, even if they had tried to do so.

Daryl Powell has ended speculation about his plans for next season by signing a new one-year contract with Leeds. Powell, now 34, had been linked with a move to Gateshead.

Huddersfield have clinched the signing of the Auckland and New Zealand stand-off Gene Ngamu for next season. "He is a key part of our future plans," said the Huddersfield coach, Malcolm Reilly.

Reilly will give a full debut to Dean Lawford, on loan from Leeds, in tonight's match against Warrington, who are still waiting to hear whether the former Australian Test scrum-half, Allan Langer, will join them next year.

Two Keighley players, Christian Tyrer and David Larder, have been suspended from playing while the club investigates an alleged flare-up between them during the victory over Barrow on Sunday.